Joe Polacco is a native of the Bensonhurst neighborhood of Brooklyn NY where he attended PS 200, PS 101, and JHS 128 (Bensonhurst Junior High). He completed his public education at Stuyvesant HS in lower Manhattan and went on to obtain his BS. at Cornell (1966) and PhD at Duke (1971), with emphases in Biochemistry, Chemistry, and Genetics. After two years as an Assistant Professor at the Universidad del Valle in Cali, Colombia, and eight months as a postdoctoral at Brookhaven National Laboratories, he entered the field of plant science, spending 5 years as a staff Geneticist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station—the oldest in the U.S. and second internationally to that at Wageningen, The Netherlands.
In 1979, he joined the Biochemistry Department of the University of Missouri-Columbia (MU) where he is now Professor Emeritus. He has taught undergraduate, graduate, and medical students, and introduced such biotech outreach courses as “Biotechnology in Society” and “DNA Science” for non-science majors. He has won awards both for teaching and international outreach.
His research has touched on mitochondrial function, lipoxygenase roles, Ni metabolism, and plant interactions with methylotrophic commensal bacteria. The main focus is the assimilation of fixed nitrogen in the form of ureides and on mobilization of N reserves. His interest in reactions involving arginine led directly to studies on NO production and function in plants.
Polacco was twice a Senior Fulbright Fellow. He has extensive international research and teaching experience in science, in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Spain. He has published 68 peer-reviewed research articles, many reviews, opinion pieces, and book chapters and has edited two major monographs. In addition, he has published bilingual poetry (Spanish and English) while at MU, where he is known as the “poet laureate of Biochemistry,” producing both serious and humorous pieces.
Joe recently released his third book, A Life’s Rambles/Ramblas de una Vida, in October of 2021. His second book, Giovanni, was released in September of 2020. He released his first book, Vina, in 2016 as a tribute to his mother.