More than two months after interviewing its final four candidates, MU’s Life Sciences Center has chosen its director.
MU Provost Brady Deaton announced Tuesday that R. Michael Roberts, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has been appointed director of the $60 million center. His appointment will be effective Jan. 1.
“I’m a little bit nervous,” Roberts said of his new responsibilities. “I’m sort of looking forward to it. It’s a new adventure, but there’s a long way to go.”
Roberts said it will be important to think hard about how the center will conduct research and generate income through grants.
According to the MU News Bureau, the director is responsible for working with interdisciplinary teams across the campus. Research programs housed in the center will be expected to use new technologies to improve crop productivity, food safety and animal health and reproduction. Programs will also help develop new treatments and diagnostics for human disease, as well as enhance environmental quality.
The starting salary for Roberts will be $225,000 according to Christian Basi, MU spokesman. Construction of the center is expected to be completed in May.
Deaton said in a press release that Roberts is an “international science leader with the vision, skill and credibility across campus, the state and the world. Under his leadership, our scientists will be working with colleagues in St. Louis, Kansas City and around the world to find answers to some of the major human health, agricultural and environmental problems the world is faced with today.”
Roberts, a distinguished curators professor and the only local candidate under consideration, has been a professor of animal sciences and biochemistry at MU since 1985. Last January, he received the international Wolf Prize for agriculture for his research on cattle pregnancy.
In 1995 he was elected chairman of MU’s Department of Veterinary Pathobiology. He became chief scientist with the National Research Initiative of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1998 and returned to full-time teaching and research in 2000.
Roberts said his first task as director will be to identify what areas of research the center will focus on. During a public forum in October he identified epigenetics, stress in relation to the environment and disease, comparative genomics and lineage specification as possible themes.
“I’m going to have to work with a lot of people in order to build those themes,” he said Tuesday. “I’m still thinking along those same lines. I’ve spent my last three or four weeks really talking to faculty.”
Roberts earned a bachelor’s degree in botany in 1962 and a doctorate in plant physiology and biochemistry from Oxford University in England.
Roberts said there is much to be done before the Life Sciences Center opens to students and researchers. The center will house computer labs and laboratories for conducting experiments.
“We have to be concerned about getting the building ready for undergraduate instruction,” he said. “This is a program that has campus-wide importance. We have to make sure that it is working well and that the building gets used as a life sciences center.”
Roberts would like to see educational events and special seminars held at the center. He said he will also focus on increasing the center’s endowment.
“This isn’t just for the benefit of the people working in there,” Roberts said. “I think it will help us, for example, to recruit people who might not have come here before.”
Missourian reporter David Kent contributed to this story.