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Department History and Archives



History of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Mississippi State University

The Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences began as the Agricultural Chemistry Department of the Mississippi Agricultural Experiment Station which dates back to 1926. At that time the work of the Agricultural Chemistry Department was in the old chemistry building under the direction of Dr. W.F. Hand. The Department moved into the Experiment Station Building in 1931 and was quartered there until it was moved to Dorman Hall in 1966. Mr. B. K. Smith served briefly as Experiment Station Chemist in 1926, and in 1927 Mr. Marvin Gieger became Experiment Station Chemist under Dr. W.F. Hand. In 1931 Mr. Geiger was made head of the Agricultural Chemistry Department and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1958. In 1958 Dr. Benjamin F. Barrentine became Head of the Agricultural Chemistry Department. In the early years of its existence the Agricultural Chemistry Department functioned primarily as a service laboratory for the other departments of the School of Agriculture. The work consisted, largely, of plant and soil analysis, however over the years a research program was developed within the Department. The research program of the Agricultural Chemistry Department was concerned with the basic composition of plants and some of the influences of environment and fertility on their composition. Special emphasis was given to metabolic disorders of livestock, such as grass tetany and bloat, as related to plant composition. The Department also became involved in pesticide residue analysis in milk, vegetables, soils, soybeans, and forages.

The Department of Biochemistry at Mississippi State University was approved by the Board of Trustees May 19, 1966. However, no further action occurred until 1968. In the Fall of 1968 Dr. Louis N. Wise, Vice President for Agriculture, wrote a letter to Dr. William L. Giles, President, Mississippi State University, requesting that the Agricultural Chemistry Department be re-designated the Biochemistry Department in the College of Agriculture. Dr. Wise further requested that all courses in biochemistry being taught in the Chemistry Department and departments of the College of Agriculture be transferred to and taught by the proposed Department of Biochemistry. Dr. Giles approved the request and presented the proposal to the Board of Trustees at their December meeting in 1968. The Board of Trustees approved the proposal and the following is an excerpt from the agenda:

"After long and careful consideration of the matter it is recommended that the Department of Agricultural Chemistry in the Mississippi Agricultural Experiment Station be re-designated the Department of Biochemistry in the College of Agriculture and Agricultural Experiment Station and that Dr. Ben F. Barrentine, currently Head of the Department of Agricultural Chemistry, be appointed Head of this new Department, effective July 1, 1969."

Dr. Barrentine was instrumental not only in the creation of the Department of Biochemistry, but also in Biochemistry becoming a full-fledged degree program (Bachelors of Science) at Mississippi State University (effective July 1, 1973) - the only undergraduate Biochemistry degree program in the State of Mississippi at that time.

Important to graduate programs in the Department of Biochemistry, the Ph.D. program in Molecular Biology was created in 1997, and is the only designated Molecular Biology Ph.D. program in the State of Mississippi.

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Selected Historical Documents and Articles about the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  • December 20, 1968 Letter from Dr. William Giles, then President of Mississippi State University, to Dr. Louis Wise, then Vice President of the Division of Agriculture and Forestry, regarding the Mississippi Board of Trustees approval for the creation of the Department of Biochemistry at Mississippi State University.
  • September 17, 1971 Letter from Dr. William Giles, then President of Mississippi State University, to Dr. J. McKee, then Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, regarding the approval to offer an M.S. degree in Biochemistry from the Department of Biochemistry at Mississippi State University.
  • July 19, 1973 Newspaper article from the Starkville Daily News reporting the approval to offer a B.S. degree in Biochemistry from the Department of Biochemistry at Mississippi State University.
  • Newspaper article from The Clarksdale Press Register (July 1973) highlighting the research conducted by Dr. Robert Wilson on catfish nutrition.
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