Richard Michelmore receives the 2020-21 Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award

Richard Michelmore

The Academic Senate Committee on Public Service has recognized Novozymes Chair in Genomics Richard Michelmore, who is also the director of the Genome Center and distinguished professor in the Department of Plant Sciences, for his outstanding contributions and commitment to public service with the 2020-21 Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award.

In a year of great uncertainty, Michelmore demonstrated exceptional vision, leadership, and scholarly excellence by spearheading the development of methods for the universal testing of the SARS-Cov-2 virus at the Genome Center on the UC Davis campus. 

Michelmore, an experienced plant geneticist, realized that PCR machines developed by the agricultural biotechnology industry to genotype plants could be repurposed as highly efficient and cost-effective testing equipment for the COVID-19 virus. Between July and September 2020, he, along with a team of researchers and staff at the Genome Center and Student Health and Counseling Services, developed, tested, and deployed the high-throughput testing technology, which is based on raw saliva samples.

This innovative saliva-based testing program that involved many on campus, along with the contact tracing protocols and quarantine facilities for positive cases, enabled UC Davis to maintain a positivity rate of about 0.3% at a time when the rate for the surrounding county was in the double digits and many other universities were forced to close down. It also facilitated the partnership between UC Davis and the City of Davis to create the Healthy Davis Together program, which extends universal testing to the entire Davis community – from students, employees, and residents – and has received national attention.

Beyond the insight and tenacity, he showcased in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Michelmore has turned the UC Davis Genome Center, of which he is both the founding and current director, into a world-class research center. He has achieved this through recruitment of distinguished biologists, the establishment of core service facilities that provide cutting-edge technologies to over 200 campus labs, and his own pioneering research.

“I am delighted that Richard is receiving the 2020-21 Distinguished Scholarly Public Service Award,” said Gail Taylor, chair of the Department of Plant Sciences. “His commitment to developing the COVID-19 saliva testing for the campus, and for the whole of the Davis community has been outstanding. This in addition to his world-leading contribution to Plant Sciences and directorship of the Genome Center mean this award is thoroughly deserved.”