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Rao, Guru

Guru Rao

Associate Vice President for Research

Talking to smart people every day is a highlight of Associate Vice President for Research Guru Rao’s work, as he undertakes building Iowa State’s research strengths and increasing the research impact of the university. Guru focuses on identifying funding opportunities, building relationships with federal and other research sponsors, and working with researchers from across Iowa State to build interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teams to conduct high-impact research. Guru also serves as Iowa State’s research integrity officer, helping to ensure that our research is held to the highest ethical standards.

Guru worked for 18 years as a researcher and senior research leader at DuPont Pioneer before becoming a professor in 2006 and then Chair of the Roy J. Carver Department of Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Molecular Biology at Iowa State University in 2007. He held that position until he joined the Office of the Vice President for Research in 2016. He earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Mysore in India.

In his years in the laboratory in industry and academia, Guru served as principal investigator on multimillion-dollar research projects and has published dozens of academic articles. His innovations in synergistic research combined descriptive plant breeding, fundamental mechanistic biochemistry, protein engineering, proteomics and systems biology to develop proprietary methodologies for  nutritionally-enhanced crops and defense proteins in grains. Guru is an elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and holds Iowa State’s Roy J. Carver Endowed Professorship. He is an inventor on 26 patents covering engineered proteins for nutritional enhancement, insecticidal proteins, and antimicrobial peptides, and he was inducted into the Pioneer Inventor Hall of Fame in 2003 based on his noteworthy research achievements.

An advocate for innovative, collaborative research teams at Iowa State, Guru sees these teams accomplishing big things in the future, perhaps creating designer corn plants that yield 500 bushels an acre. “I can see us doing the research that helps feed 10 billion people on the planet,” he says.

What Iowa State research instrumentation would you most like to spend a day using?

“The mass spectrometer in the Molecular Biology Building. Mass spectrometry can tell us a lot about protein structure and modifications that can affect both the structure and function of a protein. When a protein does not adopt the right three-dimensional structure or shape, health consequences in humans and animals can be severe (breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, as examples). Similarly, malformed protein structures in plants can affect growth and development and the ability of a plant to respond to various stresses and climatic conditions.”

Guru can help with: Finding funding opportunities; creating strategic partnerships with industry; building collaborative teams around the university; and developing research programs, particularly those focused on addressing the grand challenges facing us today.

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