NatSci faculty members honored as MSU Foundation Professors

Published April 16, 2015

Christoph Benning (left) and Dean DellaPenna.

Two Michigan State University (MSU) College of Natural Science (NatSci) professors, Christoph Benning and Dean DellaPenna, were honored on April 15 with a new designation—MSU Foundation Professor—in recognition of their exceptional contributions to research and instruction. Their investiture ceremony took place in the Christman Lounge at MSU’s Wharton Center for the Performing Arts.

The professorships are part of an MSU initiative to attract and retain highly successful faculty members. Each of the recipients receives five years of supplemental research support and holds the MSU Foundation Professor designation permanently.

“These faculty members are globally recognized for their scientific accomplishments,” said R. James Kirkpatrick, NatSci dean. “Their research productivity, innovative thinking, quality teaching and leadership place them at the very top of their fields. Their distinction as MSU Foundation Professors is well deserved.”

Benning, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and an MSU AgBioResearch scientist, is one of the world’s foremost experts in plant lipid metabolism. He led a collaborative effort with colleagues from the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center that resulted in a significant early step toward producing better plants for biofuels.   He was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 2014.

“I am very grateful for this recognition,” Benning said. “MSU has provided the perfect environment to study plant biochemistry at the highest level, allowing my coworkers and me to make progress in areas ranging from a better understanding of the assembly of the photosynthetic membrane to discovering principles governing the biosynthesis of oils in plants and algae.”

DellaPenna, University Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and an MSU AgBioResearch scientist, is a plant physiologist who studies medicinal plant genomics and plant metabolism and micronutrients. He is one of MSU’s most visible ambassadors to the international plant science community and to governmental and non-governmental agencies on the importance of basic plant research for increasing the productivity and nutritional value of plants for human health. He was named a fellow of AAAS in 2009.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized as one of the inaugural awardees of the new MSU Foundation Professorships,” DellaPenna said. “The body of work that made this possible is due to the outstanding intellectual environment for plant research at MSU and the dedicated and hard work by personnel in my lab since arriving at MSU 15 years ago.”

Thomas D. Sharkey, professor and chair of the MSU Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, affirms the value of Benning’s and DellaPenna’s research and leadership skills.

“Professors Benning and DellaPenna are world-renowned scientists who have made transformative discoveries in their respective fields,” Sharkey said. “Both of them represent the excellence at MSU that will keep it among the elite institutions devoted to discovering and transmitting fundamental advances in biochemistry and molecular biology.”

Two other professors from NatSci have been named inaugural MSU Foundation Professors—Robin Buell, professor of plant biology, and Andrew Christlieb, professor of mathematics. Their investiture ceremonies will take place later today.

In addition to funding supplied by the MSU Foundation and administered through the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies, the MSU Office of the Provost and the faculty member’s academic unit contribute funds to support each MSU Foundation Professor.