Smith, Don

Academic title(s): 

Distinguished James McGill Professor

Smith, Don
Contact Information
Email address: 
donald.smith [at]

Raymond Building R2-026

Research areas: 
Sustainable agriculture and climate resilience
Plant-biotic interactions

During his 35 years at McGill Donald L. Smith (Distinguished James McGill Professor) has conducted research in the production and physiology of crop plants, with an emphasis on plant-microbe interactions, most recently, within the context of biofuel feedstock production. Specific areas of research have been: nitrogen metabolism, nitrogen fixation, low temperature stress and legume nodulation, methods for injection of metabolites into plants, cereal production, plant growth regulators, intercropping, inter-plant competition, plant-microbe signaling, plants and climate change, biofuel crops, cannabis, crop stress responses and biochar as a soil amendment. Work on microbe-to-plant signals and plant stress responses has is leading to climate change resilient crop production systems. He has trained 82 graduate students, ~2/3 at the Ph.D. level, published >350 papers, generated thirteen patents, started a spin-off company (Bios Agriculture Inc.), and commercialized technologies now applied to ~100 million ha of cropland per year. He has been cited more than 14,000 times and his current H index (Research Gate) is 61. He has been principal investigator on research grants totaling ~$80 million. He currently led BioFuelNet, which was just finished a 5-year cycle of funding ($50 M), which led to an additional $10 M to fund Biomass Canada through AAFC.

Active Affiliations:

  • Bios Agriculture 1999 to 2006 – member of the Scientific Advisory Board
  • Axter Agricsciences 2013 to 2016 – member of the Scientific Advisory Board
  • Chairman of the Advisory Committee of the Joint International Research Laboratory in Agriculture and Agri-product Safety of the Ministry of Education, China 2017 –
  • Environmentally Correct Concepts Inc. 2018 – Member of the Scientific Advisory Group
  • Advisory Board of the Centre for Translational Biology (CTB) Drug Discovery Platform of McGill University 2018 –
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Grape and Wine Agri-Innovation Cluster
  • Board member Centre SEVE, MAPAQ funded Quebec research network 2014 –
  • McGill Cannabis Research Centre

BSc, MSc (Acadia University)
PhD (University of Guelph)

Awards, honours, and fellowships: 
  • 2018-23 Scientific Director and CEO of Biomass Canada
  • 2013 Clean50 award for contributions to sustainable development and clean capitalism
  • 2012-17 Scientific Director and CEO of BioFuelNet Canada
  • 2012 Awarded Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, in this case recognizing significant contributions to intelligent agriculture
  • 2007 Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS) prix Michel-Jurdant
  • 2005-19 Awarded James McGill Professorship
  • 1999- Fellow of the Canadian Society of Agronomy
  • 1998 Awarded McGill "New Sun" professorship
  • 1994 Recipient of the Canadian Society of Agronomy's Young Agronomist award
  • 1989 Selected as one of the top ten young scientists working in Québec agriculture
Areas of interest: 

Dr. Smith's research interests are in the area of crop eco-physiology. They can be broken down into several specific areas of activity. One of these is the use of signal compounds to improve legume nitrogen fixation under environmental conditions inhibitory to symbiosis development. This work has led to a number of publications, patents, and the establishment of a spin-off company. A second area is the use of plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), and signal compound produced by them, to increase the growth and yield many crops. This led to the isolation of several new PGPR strains and the isolation of a material, produced by a PGPR, that causes direct stimulation of plant growth. A third area of research is the use of the signal compounds produced by rhizobia during the establishment of the rhizobia-legume symbiosis to directly promote plant growth. Fourth, research is methods to increase the sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere into crop plants, including the use of biochar, for ultimate sequestration into soil, or for use in bioproducts. This is linked to the utilization of crop plants in greenhouse gas management, including use of lignocellulosics produced by crop plants as biofuel feedstocks. For more on biofuel research, see the BioFuelNet website.

Current research: 
  • Plant-microbe interactions with a focus on signalling and mutual regulation between microbes and plants
  • Biocontrol of plant pathogens
  • Biomass production and integration of agriculture into the full bioeconomy
  • Cannabis production and quality
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