Talking Testing With Genome Center’s Michelmore

Chancellor Gary S. May interviews Richard Michelmore, director of the Genome Center, for Face to Face With Chancellor May.
Chancellor Gary S. May interviews Richard Michelmore, director of the Genome Center, for Face to Face With Chancellor May. (Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis)

The asymptomatic COVID-19 screening system in use on campus and in the city of Davis has stopped hundreds of potential outbreaks before they started. On this month’s Face to Face With Chancellor May, we hear from the system’s architect, Richard Michelmore, a professor of plant sciences and director of the UC Davis Genome Center.

The screening program, which garnered national attention in The New York Times and elsewhere, involves collecting saliva samples from students, staff and faculty at the Activities and Recreation Center and elsewhere, and from community members through the campus-city partnership called Healthy Davis Together, then quickly testing the samples at the Genome Center.

The equipment was designed for agricultural use.

Richard Michelmore
Richard Michelmore

“My background is in plant pandemics,” Michelmore said. “I've actually been studying pandemics for 40 years, and not many people realize that actually our global food supply is perennially threatened by plant pandemics. So it's a relatively simple transition to think about how we screen at scale for a human pathogen.”

Michelmore praised the way people from various parts of the university sprang into action and collaborated to make the testing program possible, saying he was just the architect who planned the program behind the scenes.

“Kelly Ratliff [vice chancellor of Finance, Operations and Administration], I mean, she basically said, ‘Make it happen,’” Michelmore said. “And it happened, you know, because everybody came together. It just shows what the campus can do when everyone pulls in the same direction.”

The chancellor said the testing program has had a real impact.

Purple graphic with text "Face to Face with Chancellor May"

“It’s really been an innovative game-changer and perhaps even a lifesaver,” May said. “So hats off to you.”

Michelmore also discussed his career at UC Davis, which began in 1982, and the ways the campus has changed in that time. When it came time for Michelmore to ask May a question or two, as every guest on Face to Face does, he asked the chancellor about his plans to keep up with the way education has evolved in recent years.

For this episode’s rapid-fire “Hot Seat” segment, Michelmore named his favorite thing about living in Davis, his go-to recreational activity, his pick for the greatest scientific discovery of all time and more.

This is the fourth episode of Face to Face With Chancellor May. Previous episodes of the show have featured:

  • Akshita Gandra, a senior majoring in cognitive science who founded The Revival Zine, an online publication focused on giving a voice to college students from around the country writing about feminism and social justice.
  • Theanne Griffith, an assistant professor in the Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, School of Medicine, who is also a children’s book author.
  • Jennifer Gross, the head coach of the women’s basketball team.

Media Resources

Cody Kitaura is a News and Media Relations Specialist in the Office of Strategic Communications, and can be reached by email or at 530-752-1932.

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