COLLEGE STATION - Dr. Thomas D. McKnight has been appointed as head of the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, effective February 1, announced H. Joseph Newton, dean of the College of Science.
McKnight, a widely respected researcher in both plant molecular and cell biology and a 29-year veteran of the department, has been associate head of the department since 2003. He replaces Dr. U.J. McMahan, who had served since 2008 as department head and has returned to full-time research and teaching-related priorities.
“We are indeed fortunate to have a person of Dr. McKnight’s knowledge, both of biology and of Texas A&M, to lead the Department of Biology into the future,” Newton said. “I look forward to working with him in all related aspects.”
McKnight earned both his bachelors of science in microbiology (1975) and his Ph.D. in molecular and population genetics (1983) from the University of Georgia. He completed postdoctoral research at the Atlantic Richfield Plant Cell Research Institute prior to being appointed an assistant professor of biology at Texas A&M in 1985. He was promoted to associate professor in 1991 and to full professor in 2002.
In a recent presentation to the College of Science’s External Advisory and Development Council, McKnight outlined several priorities for the department, including strengthening faculty mentoring and recognition efforts as well as promoting biology as a vibrant and viable career choice for both current and prospective students.
“Biology is the central life science, and our faculty is involved in many collaborative research projects with other units across campus,” McKnight advised the group, which features a broad mix of former students, donors, industry leaders and friends of the college. “I am looking forward to the challenge of helping this wonderful group of creative and inquisitive scientists reach the next level.”
A member of the interdepartmental faculties of genetics and molecular and environmental plant sciences, McKnight has broad research interests in plant molecular biology. In the past, his lab has elucidated biochemical pathways that produce anticancer drugs and studied chromosome biology in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Currently, McKnight’s lab is studying the biosynthesis of glycolipids, which can easily be converted to biogasoline.
McKnight’s research has been supported by multiple state and federal sources, including the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is a past editor for several journals, such as GENE, and has served on the organizing committees for major international conferences as well as national-level review panels. An equally accomplished educator, McKnight is a 2009-10 National Academy of Sciences Education Fellow and was honored with a Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching in 1994.