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Focus on the Faculty: Jim Leebens-Mack

Professor of plant biology and Creative Research Medal winner Jim Leebens-Mack investigates the history of plant life on our planet while being an active member of the local community. His laboratory compares genome sequences to better understand the genetic basis of biological innovations that are of great practical importance for horticulture and agriculture:

What are your favorite courses and why?

I regularly co-teach three courses—“Genome Evolution Across the Tree of Life” with Regents Professor Andrew Paterson, “Bioinformatics Applications” with University Professor Russell Malmberg and “Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution” typically with Associate Professor Liang Liu. Phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary history through analysis of ancestor-descendent relationships among species. Some common themes in the courses I teach include collaborative learning and the utility of comparative analyses for understanding the evolution of biodiversity.

What interests you about your field?

Investigating the biological processes that have generated the breathtaking diversity of life on our planet is the most interesting and inspiring work I can imagine. At the same time, understanding evolutionary history is of great practical importance for horticulture and agriculture. In my lab we apply an evolutionary perspective to advance understanding of the molecular basis for variation in a wide range of fundamental processes, including flowering and fruiting, photosynthesis, water-use, storage root development, disease resistance, and the production of plant compounds with medicinal applications.

What are some highlights of your career at UGA?

I have been very fortunate to have excellent students, postdocs and research professionals working in my lab at UGA. To date, eight students have earned their doctoral degrees in my lab, and one student has earned a master’s degree. Helping these students frame and complete research projects that advance scientific knowledge has been extremely gratifying. Due to my students' excellent work, my lab has earned some recognition for our research on the evolution of plant genomes and genes influencing plant growth and reproduction.

Get to know our faculty and you realize: great people create the foundations of a great university.

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