Richt, Valent named to inaugural BRI endowed professorships
MANHATTAN — Barbara Valent, university distinguished professor in the College of Agriculture, and Jürgen Richt, the Regents distinguished professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, are receiving Kansas State University's first Biosecurity Research Institute endowed professorships.
The professorships were established through a gift by Marty Vanier and her late husband Bob Krause for faculty members who are or will be performing a significant portion of their scholarly work at the Biosecurity Research Institute, or BRI. Nominees must also have demonstrated global research impact in their fields.
"The BRI endowed professorships allow us to both leverage and extend our unique assets and scientific leadership in biosecurity and biodefense research," said David Rosowsky, K-State vice president for research. "Drs. Valent and Richt are spectacular examples of our human assets, both eminent scholars and both internationally renowned in their respective fields. We are proud to recognize them with these inaugural BRI endowed professorships and are grateful to Marty and Bob for their vision and generosity."
Valent, who is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences, has worked on understanding blast disease for more than 40 years. In the last decade, her work has focused on wheat blast, a dangerous new disease in which the fungus is capable of taking out entire wheat fields. Valent has led a research team that is driving the world's most comprehensive studies on wheat blast to keep it out of the U.S.
"Combating emerging transboundary pathogens of food crop plants requires discovery of genetic resistance as well as the development of diagnostics and management tools to control the disease where it occurs and keep it from invading new areas," Valent said. "Our research on the high consequence wheat blast disease is helping to control this disease in other parts of the world before it reaches the U.S. This research would not have been possible at K-State without the specialized plant biocontainment laboratories in the BRI. "
Valent said this professorship would enable her to add equipment and new students for BRI research on wheat blast variability mechanisms that inform and enhance biosecurity plans to defeat the dangerous pathogen.
"Barbara's work is truly transformative, both in terms of increasing the basic understanding of plants and how to save wheat and rice yields worldwide," said Ernie Minton, dean of the College of Agriculture. "It is quite appropriate for Barbara to be honored with an inaugural BRI endowed professorship as it was in the BRI that she and her team of scientists were the first to discover a resistance gene called 2NS for wheat blast disease."
Richt investigates zoonotic, emerging and transboundary diseases of livestock, focusing mainly on viral diseases. His work has led to strategies to identify, control and/or eradicate pathogens with significant impact on veterinary medicine, human health and food security. His recent work focuses on the establishment of preclinical animal models for SARS-CoV-2 to evaluate the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19.
"We are delighted for Dr. Jürgen Richt to be selected as one of the two inaugural BRI professors," said Bonnie Rush, Hodes family dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. "He is a leader in containment research, directing two major emerging infectious disease centers at K-State. In 2020, Dr. Richt redirected his work to strengthen our understanding of the pathophysiology and disease transmission of COVID-19. The BRI professorship will further enable Dr. Richt to perform the advanced, high-containment research that is essential for protecting and enhancing human and animal health on a global scale."
Both researchers are able to work on high-consequence pathogens in the BRI because of its biosafety level-3 and biosafety level-3 agriculture laboratories.
"Being selected among the first recipients of this award is deeply meaningful because of the reputation of the BRI and its staff within the scientific community," Richt said. "Existence of the BRI first and foremost demonstrates Kansas State University's tangible commitment to the food animal health science in particular, to the sciences in general and most broadly to the concept of critical-needs research."
The Biosecurity Research Institute at Pat Roberts Hall on the K-State Manhattan campus is a unique biocontainment research and education facility that has helped K-State become a national leader in biodefense research. The BRI is the home of comprehensive infectious disease research to address threats to plant, animal and human health, including foodborne pathogens.