A Global Journey

Mizzou’s PFFFD program helped attract new Plant Sciences faculty with global experience


Jaime Barros’s academic career has been an adventure beginning in his home country in Spain and spanning three continents, but he says landing at Mizzou for a faculty appointment in plant sciences is exactly where he wants to be.

“The faculty, facilities and resources available here at Mizzou are top-notch, particularly for Plant Science.” Barros said, noting that the people including fellow researchers; plant growth and analytical facilities; opportunities for funding; and scientific atmosphere all helped set Mizzou as the right place for his research.

Barros is currently taking part in the Preparing Future Faculty— Faculty Diversity (PFFFD) Program through the MU Office of Postdoctoral Education. The program aims to recruit exceptional postdoctoral scholars to retain in tenure-track faculty positions while increasing faculty diversity at Mizzou. The fellowships are typically two years, during which time the scholars focus on scholarship and participate in professional development activities that integrate and expose them to the faculty experience, including the opportunity to teach in their discipline during the second year.

“We are excited that through the help of the PFFFD program, we were able to recruit such a promising junior faculty member for the Division,” said Heike Buecking, director of the Division of Plant Science and Technology. “Jaime will strengthen the division´s expertise in plant cell wall biochemistry, a key aspect for improved bioenergy production from plants, and developing plants that are more adapted to different environmental stresses.”

Barros is in the tail-end of his first year in the program and said that he has found the ability to attend faculty meetings in his Department, as well as have access to resources from his faculty mentors. Ron Mittler and Bing Yang to be among the most valuable aspects of PFFFD. He is also enjoying co-facilitating the Freshman Research in Plants (FRIPS) program alongside Sarah Humfeld, assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Research.

“It has been such a learning experience teaching FRIPS with Sarah. We have an incredible cohort of young researchers willing to develop their careers in plant science,” Barros said.

Soon, Barros will take on teaching classes of his own — a prospect he said he finds both exciting and challenging in equal measure as he is just starting to think about the syllabus and incorporating technology into his classroom.

Prior to coming to MU, Barros’s academic experiences started in Spain, where he grew up in the Spain’s northwest  Galicia region. He obtained his undergraduate degree in forest engineering from nearby University of Santiago de Compostela before pursuing his PhD at the Spanish National Research Institute, where he studied maize (corn) genetics and breeding.

He first landed in the US in 2008 as an intern at the University of Minnesota for two academic years before moving to Brazil to study bioethanol production from sugarcane at the University of São Paulo. He then returned to Europe to take a postdoc position with the prestigious Umeå Plant Science Centre in Sweden, where he gained valuable knowledge about plant molecular biology using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana.

Before joining Mizzou, he returned stateside for a senior postdoc appointment at the University of North Texas, during which time he led three major projects with seminal importance for plant cell wall biosynthesis research.

“I am thankful to my current and past mentors, collaborators, and colleagues. Without their support and hard work, I wouldn’t be able to think about science in the way I do today and lead my research laboratory at a tier 1 research University like Mizzou,” Barros said.

In his free time, Barros enjoys swimming laps at the MU Student Rec Complex and enjoying Columbia’s extensive trail system.