From post-doc to director: WSU IBC professor takes on leadership role

Mark Lange came to Washington State University as a post-doctoral researcher in 1997 from his native Germany. A biochemist with a PhD, Lange worked in WSU’s Institute of Biological Chemistry (IBC) for more than three years.

Portrait of Mark Lange in a greenhouse.
Mark Lange

After four years away from WSU spent as a team leader in the biotechnology industry, Lange remembered his positive experiences in IBC and applied for a junior faculty position.

“People were always doing such interesting work here,” said Lange, now an IBC professor. “The lights were on 24/7, there were always people working on groundbreaking research.”

He’s been at WSU ever since, and is now stepping into a new role as IBC director after serving as interim director for 18 months.

“I’m thrilled that Mark is taking on the IBC director role permanently,” said Wendy Powers, Cashup Davis Family Endowed Dean of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences. “He’s been a great interim leader and I’m excited to see where his leadership takes the institute as they continue their impactful work.”

Lange’s first goal is to lead the institute as a role model.

“The expectation in IBC is that the director leads from the front,” Lange said. “We’re a research-intense unit and I love being part of science projects that make foundational discoveries. Our faculty have been involved in translating these discoveries into applied outcomes as co-founders of multiple startups.”

IBC doesn’t have its own undergraduate program, but it has a robust graduate program. About 25 students are enrolled in the internationally acclaimed Molecular Plant Science Program and other programs.

Lange said he would like WSU to continue its trajectory toward becoming a hub for larger collaborative research programs, hoping that IBC can play an important role in combining basic science with more applied field work.

“I think if we can bring fundamental research into projects along with applied research, that will have a bigger impact in the long term,” Lange said. “Having a unique unit like IBC could be a competitive advantage when applying for bigger grant opportunities.”

His research focuses on specialized metabolites in plants. These are often involved in interacting with other organisms and providing vital defenses against pathogens and herbivores.

Lange has had a long-standing interest in exploring the production of essential oils in mint plants. He has also researched medicinally important metabolites such as Taxol®, a natural compound found in the bark of Pacific yew trees that is used to treat a variety of cancers.

Lange will serve a four-year term as IBC’s director.