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MU Professor, Researcher James Birchler Receives SEC Professor of the Year Award

World-renowned geneticist earns award recognizing his years of research and development of cutting-edge technology

April 12th, 2017

Story Contact: Jeff Sossamon, 573-882-3346,

By Molly Peterson

James Birchler, Curators Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences in the MU College of Arts and Science, has been awarded the Southeastern Conference’s Professor of the Year Award for 2017. This award is given annually to one SEC faculty member whose record of teaching, research and scholarship distinguishes them in higher education.

The SEC academic awards are organized by the SECU, which is the academic initiative of the Southeastern Conference. The purpose of SECU is to promote achievements in research and teaching at the 14 universities in the conference and to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration among SEC university professors.

“University professors devote their lives to creating and educating for the benefit of the state, nation and world, so I am humbled to be singled out among them,” Birchler said. “It has been gratifying to see talented students from all areas of Missouri achieve their personal and professional goals during my 25 years at MU.”

Birchler, a world-renowned geneticist who studies the structure and function of cells, earned the award recognizing his years of research and development of cutting-edge technology. He created a technique that allows scientists to break down and engineer small parts of chromosomes and developed a widely used technology that accurately visualizes genes and chromosome features. He co-founded the “gene balance hypothesis,” which predicts how genes interact in determining genetic traits.

“Dr. Birchler exemplifies our core values of respect, discovery, responsibility and excellence,” said MU Interim Chancellor Hank Foley. “He has made extraordinary contributions to genetics and crop management while simultaneously managing to be an outstanding undergraduate teacher and graduate mentor. We are thrilled to have him represent Mizzou and the Southeastern Conference.”

Birchler joined the MU faculty in 1991. In 2002, he was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He became a National Academy of Sciences member in 2011. In 2014, he was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors for his development of the first engineered synthetic plant chromosome, as well as a method for visualizing chromosomes in plants. He was named a fellow of the American Society of Plant Biologists this year.

Birchler holds a degree in botany and zoology from Eastern Illinois University. He earned his doctorate in genetics from Indiana University.

Editor’s Note: For more on the award, please see the SECU announcement: Missouri’s James Birchler Named 2017 Professor of the Year