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Arkansas State University

Jonesboro, Arkansas

Tom Moore
Frances Hart
Virginia Adams

fax 870-972-3069


Dept. of Higher Education approves new
Ph.D. program in Molecular Biosciences

April 29, 2005--The Arkansas Department of Higher Education (ADHE) Board has approved a Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular Biosciences degree program for Arkansas State University in Jonesboro.

The ADHE approved the program this morning at the quarterly board meeting.
The new doctoral program must now be approved by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). It will be ASU’s fourth doctoral degree.

“This interdisciplinary doctoral program will include several departments across campus (chemistry, agriculture, biology and others), using modern disciplines in applied science and research. Most of the research will be focused on biotechnology, or plant technology, particularly researching plants for health benefits. In addition, this will be well integrated into the new Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) on campus,” said Dr. Greg Phillips, dean of the College of Agriculture and a professor of biotechnology.

“The existence of these multidisciplinary programs not only benefits faculty and graduate students, but undergraduate students as well…There is already a significant number of undergraduates participating in research activities associated with other doctoral programs at ASU,” said Dr. Susan Allen, vice chancellor for Research and Academic Affairs.

She further said, “The idea that we involve students at all levels in discovery based-learning will benefit them tremendously by providing necessary research skills.”

Dr. Carole Cramer, executive director of the ABI, said: ”This is a real plus for us, and it brings three significant advantages. One, is that graduate students are the engine for innovative research. Secondly, having an effective graduate program such as this is critical for attracting the caliber of researchers and scientists that we would we like to attract to ASU and ABI. Finally, if we want a knowledge-based economy, we need a pool of knowledgeable Ph.D.’s to drive this type of economy.”

Molecular biosciences is fundamental to many fields and careers in today’s knowledge-based economy where agriculture and medicine are interfaced, including: discovery and production of pharmaceuticals, food science, nutrition and public health, environmental sciences, bioinformatics, biodefense, education and science literacy, forensics, archeology and the genetic basis of modern agribusiness.

According to the most recent U.S. Department of Labor statistics, there is a projected increase of 20 – 35 percent in the demand for advanced degree positions in the agricultural and biopharmaceutical industries over the next 10 years. This Ph.D. is strongly encouraged as having the strongest growth potential and advancement opportunities.

The proposed molecular biosciences program at ASU will focus primarily on plant biotechnology systems – including graduate training emphasis on plant-made pharmaceuticals, nutriceuticals, and diagnostics tools for food science.

ASU has a long tradition of educating regional residents involved in agribusiness, especially since agriculture and food processing are the mainstays of the existing economy in eastern Arkansas. The addition of the doctoral degree program will enable ASU to expand its role in the region as an engine for economic development.

In the past two years, two deans have been hired in the agriculture and sciences areas with expertise in plant biotechnology. Also, in the ABI, there is new food science faculty, a cell biologist studying the health impacts of nicotine, a new environmental chemist, and a new computational biologist.

The ABI was created in 2000 as a major research component of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act. ASU is one of five state institutions mandated and funded to advance the mission of ABI. The ABI at ASU has been directed by the state ABI Board of Directors to focus on plant-made pharmaceuticals (pharmaceutical compounds such as vaccines, produced cost-effectively in crop plants) and nutriceuticals (health-promoting foods and food components.)

Approval for the doctorate is expected by the end of the year from the HLC. The new Ph.D. program is not expected to begin recruiting and accepting students until January 2006.

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