Robert Margolskee Appointed Monell Chemical President

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- The Monell Chemical Senses Center is an independent nonprofit basic research
institute based in Philadelphia. For over 45 years, Monell has advanced scientific understanding of the mechanisms and functions of taste and smell to benefit human health and wellbeing.

On Oct. 1, Robert Margolskee succeeded Gary Beauchamp as the center’s next president and director. Margolskee will be the center’s third director since its founding in 1968.

“This will be a big change for me and a big change for the center because Gary Beauchamp, the current director, has been our director for 24 years,” Margolskee said. “The big challenge basically for the director is to lead the research that goes on at our center. I’m a little excited, a little bit worried. I think the common word is trepidation.”

Margolskee received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his MD-PhD in Molecular Genetics from Johns Hopkins University, where he studied with the late Nobel laureate Dr. Daniel Nathans. He carried out postdoctoral studies in molecular biology at Stanford University with the Nobel laureate Dr. Paul Berg. While on the faculty of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, he was an Associate Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute from 1997 to 2005.

Margolskee joined Monell’s faculty in 2009 and was appointed Associate Director in 2010. A pioneer in the use of molecular biology for studying the cellular mechanisms of taste, he has been responsible for several major advances in the field of taste biology.

“It is certainly a field that anyone can get into,” Margolskee said. “We have a diverse group at Monell, people with backgrounds in the biological science, neurological science, chemistry physiology and most of the work that goes on either involves cells or expressed protein.”

For many years, Margolskee had been interested in human physiology and human molecular genetics and when thinking about interesting projects at the time, he concluded that the sense of taste wasn’t really understood at the molecular level.

When first engaging in this line of research, Margolskee visited Monell and worked with some of the same people that he works with today.

“I think there are actually quite a lot of opportunities in the chemical senses area,” Margolskee said. “It’s in general a very welcoming field and the people who were at Monell 23 years ago were very helpful to me in getting my research program going.”

Although his new position will take up a majority of his time, Margolskee is hoping that he will able to still spend some of it working in his field of study.

The most important work, Margolskee stressed, will be the general business of the Monell Center and ensuring that the research funding is strong as are the papers published and grant applications submitted.

“Working with the faculty to encourage them to research programs [is important too] but certainly I’m going to be very busy with the director’s job and I’m very hopeful that I still will have some time left over to continue the research in my own laboratory,” Margolskee said.