UGA adds new GRA Eminent Scholar

Buell will come to campus in the fall

Robin Buell, University Distinguished Professor at Michigan State University and a renowned plant genomics expert, will join UGA in fall 2021 as its newest Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

GRA Eminent Scholars are acknowledged leaders in areas of science that are strategically important to the state of Georgia and its research universities. Buell, who will be appointed as a professor of crop and soil sciences in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, is the eighth GRA Eminent Scholar recruited to UGA since 2015 and the 20th overall. She will be UGA’s 19th currently serving Eminent Scholar.

“The University of Georgia is grateful for the support we receive from the Georgia Research Alliance to recruit top researchers to our campus,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “We look forward to the many contributions Dr. Buell will make to our research enterprise, and we are excited to welcome her this fall.”

A fellow of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society of Plant Biologists, Buell was principal investigator on the Institute for Genomic Research team that in 2005 published the genome sequence of rice in Nature. As the first crop plant genome sequenced, this pioneering accomplishment revolutionized rice breeding and paved the way for genomic sequencing of other important crop species. Subsequently, Buell provided leadership for a team that published the first potato genome sequence, another landmark event.

Since joining MSU in 2007, she has managed genomics projects dedicated to a range of plant species as she and her colleagues work to drive plant adaptations that could yield benefits in food production, bioenergy and pharmaceuticals.

“When I interviewed, and in all my discussions, it became quite clear that the university has momentum,” Buell said. “UGA’s strength is that it’s broad in agriculture; specifically, in plant science research. The departments include crop and soil science, horticulture, plant biology, plant pathology and genetics, so you’ve got a broad perspective of plant science research.”

The Potato 2.0 Project, for which Buell serves as the lead investigator in genomics, is emblematic of her larger research program. Its ultimate goal is to “accelerate breeding timelines [and] dramatically increase the rate of cultivar improvement and the ability of potato breeders to meet the needs of consumers and the industry.”

Buell said she’s attracted by UGA’s growing strength in precision agriculture, an area of research that has been prioritized through recent hiring initiatives. Her research will complement this capacity, she said, in areas other than agricultural technologies used on a farm.

“Precision agriculture isn’t strictly just making sure where the tractor is in the field and planting the seed and applying fertilizer,” she said. “With genomics, genome engineering and genetics, you can improve the capabilities of plants to produce better yield or better processing quality. You can modify their resistance to pests and increase their resilience to drought and heat. You can make the plant much more of a precision organism.”

Jack Hu, the university’s senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, noted that the recruitment of faculty with expertise in precision agriculture is part of the university’s broader commitment to supporting the state’s largest industry. “Dr. Buell is an international leader in plant science who brings an extraordinary record of accomplishment in research, teaching and outreach to the University of Georgia,” Hu said.

Buell is also a dedicated teacher, mentor and trainer of next-generation scientists. She has a particular passion for the advancement of women and individuals from underrepresented groups in scientific fields. At MSU, she established a public outreach program that engages K-12 girls in plant discovery and lab-based training, activities she plans to reestablish at UGA.

“We are pleased to welcome Dr. Buell to the GRA Academy of Eminent Scholars,” said Susan Shows, president of the Georgia Research Alliance. “Robin brings a wealth of expertise in plant genomics and leading competitive university research. She is a strong addition to UGA and for Georgia’s agriculture industry.”

Buell has secured or help secured more than $58 million in competitive research grants. She has published more than 200 peer-reviewed papers and is the recipient of numerous awards, including the USDA Honor Award and Michigan State’s William J. Beal Faculty Award. She is an editor of The Plant Cell, one of the discipline’s premier journals, and has previously served as editor for other high-profile journals. Buell earned her Ph.D. from Utah State University.

“Robin is a superb addition to UGA’s outstanding team of experts in plant breeding, genomics and bioinformatics,” said David Lee, vice president for research. “She will complement and further strengthen UGA’s focus on developing adaptable, resilient and commercially relevant plants.”

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