The start of Spring Break didn't deter about 100 students with a keen interest in microbiology from gathering to celebrate an innovative virologist's accomplishments.
The MSU Student Chapter of the American Society for Microbiology recently presented the Dr. Lewis Brown Lectureship Award to virologist Richard J. Webby, a St. Jude's Research Hospital faculty member. Webby's swine flu research, completed in part as deputy director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, has been a significant contribution to microbiology, ASM members said.
The lectureship award celebrates the career of Lewis R. Brown, MSU research professor emeritus.
"The lectureship award was started last year by this ASM chapter to honor our very own Dr. Lewis Brown, who has been a leader in microbiology studies at this university for over 50 years," said Perceus Mody, ASM chapter president. "This award recognizes outstanding microbiologists and gives us students the opportunity to interact with them."
Mody, a junior studying medical technology, said the organization serves as a means for students to network with professionals and to discover the wide range of microbiology employment and education opportunities.
Brown's dedication to teaching microbiology, mentoring students and performing cutting-edge research is the example to which all MSU microbiology students should aspire, he added.
Brown is considered an expert in the elimination of environmental pollutants, particularly crude oil. In 1968 and 2003, Brown served as the president of MSU's Sigma XI Scientific Society, the national honor society for scientists and engineers. In 1972, Brown was awarded the first million-dollar contract ever received by an MSU faculty member. It also was the first grant ever conferred by the Environmental Protection Agency.
The ASM chapter at MSU honors faculty members whose emphasis on mentoring students and conducting research parallels that of Brown's tradition, Mody said.
MSU microbiology faculty suggest candidates, but ASM members must research nominees' accomplishments and vote for a candidate whose reputation as an expert, researcher and teacher meet the highest standards, said Justin Thornton, assistant professor of biological sciences and ASM faculty advisor. The society then invites the honoree to present a research-based lecture as part of the awards ceremony.
Thornton said ASM members showed their interest in learning more about the study of viruses by honoring one of the foremost virologists in the world with the lectureship award this year.
"Webby is one of the people who makes decisions about the flu vaccine. He helps make the decisions of which proteins are going into it. He's also an expert in the human-swine interface and the bird-human interface," Thornton said.
Mody added, "The influenza virus is known for notoriously changing its ecology, and because of this mechanism, it has claimed millions of lives in the past. Everybody has been affected by the flu some time in their life and will be affected again in the future if they don't take their flu shots.
"Dr. Richard Webby works hard with his team at St. Jude's to make this world a safer place to live in."
Webby's lecture, "Influenza virus transmission at the swine-human interface," detailed how swine viruses sometimes become human viruses. He, like Mody, advised students to meet with Brown one-on-one and learn from his expertise.
The lectureship award is the second in what ASM leaders at MSU hope becomes a long-standing annual tradition. The first recipient, Mark Smeltzer of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, is a nationally recognized bacteriologist with special interest in musculoskeletal infections.
ASM at MSU accepts members from any department on campus. Learn more at www.facebook.com/msstateasm or e-mail the chapter at firstname.lastname@example.org.