PMB Update - Fall 2019

The Plant and Microbial Biology Department has experienced many changes during the past year: New faculty, retirements, renovations to lab space, new grants and research directions, and a growing number of undergraduate students. 

As part of the Department’s expansion into microbial biology and continued efforts to maintain strong research in plant biology, three new faculty joined PMB during the past year: Drs. Janell Bazurto, Katie Greenham and Tom Niehaus. Each of them is integrating cutting-edge computational and genomic analyses with traditional genetic and biochemical approaches to advance our understanding of the plant and microbial biology. Janell is studying the physiology of microbes that live and thrive on compounds produced by plants. Katie is advancing our understanding of how time and the circadian clock affect plant growth and fitness. Tom is identifying how genes of previously unknown functions contribute to metabolism in plants and microbes. The Department now has ten assistant professors — more than we have had at any one time in decades (maybe ever?).

The new faculty are bringing new energy and helping to educate and mentor the growing number of CBS undergraduate students as well as PMB graduate students and post-doctoral scholars. In fact, the number of PMB undergraduate students is now more than it has been for at least 20 years as well!

While it is exciting to have new faculty join us, three faculty, Carolyn Silflow, Pete Lefebvre and Sue Wick, each of whom had been on the faculty of the University for more than 30 years, retired at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year. Fortunately for the Department, University and students Carolyn, Pete and Sue remain active in the University community. Carolyn and Pete will contribute to serve as co-directors of the Chlamydomonas Resource Center and Sue will continue to contribute undergraduate education through her work with the Department of Biology Teaching and Learning. 

Along with changes in faculty and the student body, the College has been investing in improving the research infrastructure in the Biosciences building in which many of us have our labs and offices. These investments have allowed recently hired faculty to move into updated laboratory spaces (removing the orange cabinets from the 1970s is a nice improvement), and also allowed for a new lab space (in an area that once housed the PMB library) currently shared by four faculty (Springer, Moeller, Greenham, and me). I can happily write that the new lab space is not only more pleasant to work in than the 1970s-era designed and furnished labs that we left behind, but the new space also promotes both scientific and social interactions among the labs, especially the students. 

The other big infrastructure investment that affects PMB is that there is now a new CBS Conservatory! The new building provides a beautiful new home to the diverse collection of more than 1600 species that is used widely for teaching, outreach, and research. A grand opening is being planned for March 21. Hope to see you there.  – Peter Tiffin