Genomic institute taps White for top post

By Tyler Warner

The recently created Institute for Genomic and Systems Biology (IGSB) at the University of Chicago and Argonne National Laboratory will be headed by Kevin P. White beginning July 1.

The new head of the IGSB, considered the top pick nationwide, has been greeted with enthusiasm by the Department of Genetics.

“We are all more or less jubilant” about White’s appointment, said Conrad Gilliam, chairman of the Department of Genetics. “He is a man of exceptional ability.”

The IGSB, which officials hope will make the University one of the top genomics research institutions in the nation, was created “to accelerate the transition of basic discoveries in genome science into practical benefits for society,” according to a draft of the Institute’s web site.

While the IGSB will be part of the Biological Sciences division and housed in the new Knapp Center for Biomedical Discovery in 2008, the institute will work closely with Argonne National Laboratory’s Biosciences division.

The University is currently in a bidding process to retain the management rights to the national lab, and the IGSB partly demonstrates the unique opportunities possible with U of C stewardship.

The U of C is competing with other institutions to keep management of Argonne. The University’s contract will expire September 30 if it does not win the bidding process.

The IGSB “is an example of what we think those who are judging this process want to see,” Gilliam said, further calling it “a very strong example of how the two are moving toward more integration.”

Thomas F. Rosenbaum, the vice president of research for Argonne, drew additional parallels.

“Argonne is a world leader in structural biology,” he said, while the University “is a center of studies to understand the implications of decoding the human genome.”

If the University loses management rights, however, the work of the Institute should continue, officials said. Gilliam said the majority of those working with the IGSB would have joint appointments, which are unlikely to change with a management switch.

However, a change in management could signal a shift in priorities, which would impact research projects.

Gilliam said the major question would be whether the new managers “share the same vision for the future.”

White, who earned his B.S. and M.S. degrees in biology at Yale University and his Ph.D. in developmental biology at Stanford University, is currently an assistant professor in the departments of Genetics and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the Yale School of Medicine.

At Yale, White has focused his research on the processes by which genes and proteins influence development. White primarily uses fruit flies to conduct his research, which he then applies to human genetic development.