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Purdue Agriculture dean selects Ogas as new department head of biochemistry

Bernie Engel, Purdue University’s Glenn W. Sample Dean of the College of Agriculture, has appointed Joe Ogas as head of the Department of Biochemistry. He has served as interim department head for over a year. 

“In addition to his academic achievements, Dr. Ogas has an impressive record of leadership and service within Purdue and the wider academic community,” Engel said. “I’m excited to have someone with his dedication and expertise as our permanent department head and look forward to the positive impact he will continue to make.” 

After receiving his bachelor’s in chemistry from Stanford University and his PhD from the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California San Francisco, Ogas held research appointments at Michigan State University and the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He joined the Purdue faculty in 1998, becoming associate director of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research (now the Institute for Cancer Research) and associate head of biochemistry in 2018. 

Ogas studies epigenetics, which includes the functional and biochemical analysis of how an organism’s DNA is packaged around histone proteins to make chromatin that can be tightened or loosened to alter gene expression. His lab uses the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana to study the impacts of the epigenome on cellular identity and development.  

Recently, he and his team members have written papers on the ancient histone variant H2A.Z and its use in plants as a rapid switch enabling dynamic gene expression. In another paper, the Ogas and Wisecaver labs followed the evolution of the CHD family of chromatin remodelers and highlighted how this ancient family of chromatin modifiers diversified, suggesting novel mechanisms by which different lineages dynamically alter the chromatin that packages their genomes. Ogas’ research adds to the knowledge base for other scientists and could also provide key insights for genetically enhancing crops to produce greater yields to feed the world. 

Ogas has also contributed to the implementation and analysis of the Summer Science Program, where he worked with Eric Deemer and demonstrated the program’s impact on high school students. His contributions in education and mentorship for high school students and undergraduates earned him the 2021 College of Agriculture PK-12 Outreach and Engagement Sustained Faculty Impact Award and the 2016-2017 College of Agriculture Outstanding Counselor Award. 

“It is an honor and a privilege to serve as head of the Department of Biochemistry,” Ogas said. “I feel fortunate to be a member of such an outstanding community, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute in this capacity.” 

Joe Ogas and his grad student review a figure displaying data on one of the histone variants they study together Joe Ogas and a graduate student review a figure displaying data on one of the histone variants they study together.

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