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Cell cycle research leader named first Johnson Distinguished Professor

An internationally recognized leader in cell cycle research from Ohio State University has been appointed the first Irving S. Johnson Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology.

Berl R. Oakley will join the Department of Molecular Biosciences in August.

Berl R. Oakley

Berl R. Oakley

The endowed professorship was created by Irving S. Johnson, a 1953 KU graduate who earned a doctorate in developmental biology (zoology).

He established the professorship with a $507,000 gift to the university through KU Endowment and recently added $500,000 to the fund. Johnson's gift provides for the professorship as well as scholarship funds for a graduate student or postdoctoral researcher to assist Oakley. The Kansas City-based Hall Family Foundation contributed $500,000 to the professorship. Moreover, the professorship will leverage additional funding through the Kansas Partnership for Faculty of Distinction Program.

"I think there are hardly any limits to what can be done in biomedical research anymore," Johnson said. "I wanted to endow a chair of molecular biology so that other students in Kansas could have the courses they need to be able to do biomedical research."

Oakley is a distinguished scholar who received a bachelor's in botany from Duke University and a doctorate in botany and cell biology from the University of London.

He was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia and York University and an instructor at Rutgers Medical School. In 1982, Oakley began his faculty position at Ohio State, where he now is a professor of molecular genetics. In 2003, he received the highest award for research and scholarship at Ohio State and was named an Ohio State University Distinguished Scholar. In addition, he is an American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow and recipient of the Harlan Hatcher Award for his mentoring of colleagues and students.

"We are very excited that Berl Oakley is bringing his landmark research program on cell division to KU," said Kathy Suprenant, chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences. "Cells that fail to divide properly can have the incorrect number of chromosomes, which can result in birth defects or even cancer. I am particularly excited about Dr. Oakley's new line of research that combines gene targeting and natural-products chemistry to identify and purify secondary metabolites that have been shown to have anti-tumor, anti-bacterial and even anti-cholesterol activity. This timely combination of genomics and chemical biology will lead to a better understanding of health and disease."

Endowed professorships help recruit and maintain an outstanding faculty. Because of donors to KU Endowment, more than 120 faculty members at KU's four campuses hold such professorships.

"Berl Oakley is a first-rate scholar, a great teacher and mentor, and an outstanding addition to the University of Kansas," said Joseph E. Steinmetz, dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "Future work by Dr. Oakley and his colleagues will undoubtedly lead to additional important discoveries that will have a significant impact on the fields of genetics, molecular biology and biomedical science in general."

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