East Lansing’s MSU Receives $3M Gift to Update Cook Hall, $2.5M Grant to Study Skin Pathogen

Michigan State University in East Lansing has received a $3 million gift from alumnus Gary Seevers to restore and improve Cook Hall, one of the college’s oldest buildings. Renovations were completed at the end of last year.
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Cook-Seevers Hall
Cook-Seevers Hall at MSU has gotten $3 million in updates. // Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

Michigan State University in East Lansing has received a $3 million gift from alumnus Gary Seevers to restore and improve Cook Hall, one of the college’s oldest buildings. Renovations were completed at the end of last year.

Cook Hall was constructed in 1889 and is part of MSU’s historic Laboratory Row, which includes six buildings created between 1888 and 1909. It has housed graduate students from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources for more than 50 years.

“It’s clear that this building, department, and college had a transformative effect on Gary’s life and his career, and he in turn, through his generosity, has been able to affect transformative change on the students and staff who study and work here,” says Ron Hendrick, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.”

The gift allowed for restoration of the ceilings, walls, woodwork, and period lighting. Other improvements include multifunctional gathering spaces, break-out areas, and research and study space. The building also now includes a barrier-free entrance, restrooms, and elevator, making it completely accessible.

The building was named in honor of Albert J. Cook in 1969 and was originally Entomology on Laboratory Row. Cook was an 1862 MSU graduate and one of the leading economic entomologists of his time. Since its renovation, the building is now called Cook-Seevers Hall. The last remaining building to be renovated on Laboratory Row is Old Botany.

Seevers studied animal science and agricultural economics at MSU, receiving a bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate degrees. He also donated $600,000 to establish a scholarship fund for the Honors College and partnered with the late Gordon Guyer, a former president of MSU, to create the Guyer-Seevers faculty chair position in Natural Resource Conservation by providing a seed $1.25 million gift. He later designated an additional $2 million to support the scholarship and chair position through a gift from his estate.

In related news, scientists at the university have been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation to study mycobacterium ulcerans, a pathogen that causes Buruli ulcer, a chronic condition that affects skin, soft tissues, and bone. The pathogen is closely related to those causing leprosy and tuberculosis.

Researchers do not yet know how humans contract the Buruli ulcer, but there is a hypothesis on how the pathogen is able to thrive in certain environments, particularly in tropical regions. The novel weapon hypothesis suggests that some invasive species are dominant in new ecosystems because they contain compounds that allow them to persist in the environment at the expense of native species.

This has been tested in plants, and scientists believe the same could be true for microbial communities, especially those in the environment that cause disease.

“We know very little about how this pathogen moves around in the environment,” says M. Eric Benbow, principal investigator of the project and associate professor in the MSU Department of Entomology with a joint appointment in the Department of Osteopathic Medical Specialties. “Additionally, we need to understand more about how Mycobacterium ulcerans interacts with other microbes and pathogens. This work can help us uncover basic information about how diseases become emergent and spread.”

The project will be focused on French Guiana, a district of France located in the north Atlantic coast of South America. Buruli ulcer is endemic in the area.

“The team is interested in examining the interaction between disease-causing organisms and the environment, including fish, invertebrates, and biofilms that grow on aquatic plants,” says Jennifer Pechal, assistant professor in the MSU Department of Entomology and one of four co-principal investigators on the project. “We can learn a lot from taking samples from the watershed in an area where the disease is present, especially spots where there is a lot of human activity.”

Pechal uses genomic and computational tools to explore the effects microbes and insects have on human and animal health.

The team will likely travel to French Guiana in the first year to survey the area and work on logistics of navigating waterways in parts of the Amazon, according to Benbow. In the second year, the group will begin to take samples.

Graduate and undergraduate students will have the chance to participate in the research, and a special emphasis will be put on the inclusion of veterans.

Other co-principal investigators are Heather Jordan, assistant professor at Mississippi State University; Michael Sandel, assistant professor at the University of West Alabama; and Jean-François Guégan, research professor at the French Institute for Research on Sustainable Development.

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