Michael Sussman named first Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair

Photo by Andy Manis

Michael Sussman, professor of biochemistry, is the first recipient of the Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair at the UW–Madison College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. This chair recognizes and rewards a faculty member who demonstrates exceptional cross-disciplinary scholarship and collaboration in the area of human or animal health, and who advances the impact of agriculture through the identification and development of novel bio-functional compounds. Sussman will hold the five-year appointment through June 30, 2027.

The Salm-Bray Distinguished Chair was established by Christopher and Susan Salm, both alumni of UW–Madison CALS. After leaving Madison, the Salms went on to complete their graduate studies and take roles in industry and academia. In 2004 Chris co-founded Salm Partners, LLC, a company that uses unique technologies to produce ready-to-eat sausages and hot dogs. In 2015, he co-founded Ab E Discovery, LLC, a biotechnology company to commercialize university research discoveries. The name of the chair also honors the legacy of the late Robert Bray, a faculty member in the meat and animal science department from 1941 to 1984, who was instrumental in training and inspiring students and staff during his tenure. With this distinguished chair, the Salms’ aim is to support a collaborative thinker with an aptitude for bringing together the deep expertise found in UW–Madison’s research community to develop innovations that can be applied for the betterment of humanity.

Sussman’s research program is known for being leading edge and wide ranging – and for uncovering impactful discoveries in plant and animal sciences. He has published on the signaling networks involved in how plants respond to environmental stressors. With a collaborator, he’s sought to identify blood-borne biomarkers for colon cancer, a project that received an Innovation Award from the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation for its potential to provide earlier and easier disease detection. More recently, he’s been involved in collaborative efforts to study aspects of the virus that causes COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2.

Sussman, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was the longtime director of the university’s Biotechnology Center. He has served as a governor’s appointee to the Wisconsin Biofuels Consortium and the Wisconsin Technology Council. He co-founded NimbleGen Systems Inc. (now Roche-NimbleGen), a successful spinoff company, whose products allow researchers to quickly and affordably analyze DNA. More recently, he helped co-found an early-stage company called Immuto Scientific, which uses a novel technique to analyze the structure of proteins and other biomolecules.