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Harris Lewin named director of Post Genomic Institute

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor

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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Animal geneticist Harris A. Lewin today was named the first director of the Post Genomic Institute at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, pending approval by the Board of Trustees at its May 15 meeting in Urbana. The institute will be a facility that officials say will put Illinois at the forefront of modern biological research.

Lewin is a leader of an international effort to sequence the cattle genome and determine the origin, evolution and function of cattle genes. He has been the director of the W.M. Keck Center for Comparative and Functional Genomics at Illinois since it was founded in 1998, and he is a former director of the campus Biotechnology Center.

"Professor Lewin is a brilliant scientist, a skillful administrator, and an inspired leader in the field of genomics and biotechnology," said Chancellor Nancy Cantor. "He is the perfect choice to lead our pioneering effort at the Post Genomic Institute."

As the director of the institute, Lewin will continue his ongoing work to define the research, education and economic development programs that will be contained in the institute, which is expected to be completed in mid-2006, officials at Illinois said.

A primary goal of the PGI, Lewin said, will be to lead the nation in research following the complete DNA sequencing of the human and mouse genomes, as well as those of several plants, animals and microbes that will be sequenced in the post-genomic era. Lewin will work with campus departments to recruit PGI faculty members and to define the institute’s research themes. So far, 11 faculty members have been hired using funding provided by the state’s VentureTech program.

The $73.5 million institute, designed by CUH2A Inc. of Chicago, will be built on Gregory Drive in Urbana, just west of Bevier Hall. The 107,000-square-foot facility will feature several multidisciplinary research themes and space for classrooms, conferences and technology transfer of new advances applicable for genomic science.

Lewin is widely known for his research in comparative mammalian genomics and immunogenetics. He established the immunology program in the department of animal sciences to study genes associated with immune responses of cattle to infectious diseases. That research led to the identification of genes conferring resistance to the bovine leukemia virus and to a patent on a method to detect animals that can pass on resistance to the disease to their progeny. His research group also pioneered technology for functional genomics in cattle that led to his founding of Pyxis Genomics, a Chicago-based company.

Lewin has been at Illinois since 1984. He holds the prestigious Gutgsell Endowed Chair in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences. He also has faculty appointments in the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the Microelectronics Laboratory.

Lewin, who was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal breeding and genetics in 1979 and 1981, respectively, from Cornell University and his doctorate in immunology in 1984 from the University of California at Davis.