Emeritus professor recognized

Be honest. Share ideas. Collaborate. And make sure your graduate students get the credit they deserve: Such was the straightforward advice of one of NC State University’s pre-eminent researchers of the late 20th century as he delivered an animal breeding and genetics seminar to a packed audience on campus Wednesday, March 23.

Dr. Eugene Eisen is a William Neal Reynolds Professor emeritus in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Animal Science. His seminar — a reflection on his life and career — is the first in what will be an annual series of talks given by winners of an animal breeding and genetics career award to be named for Eisen.

Dr. Nick Serão, assistant professor of animal breeding, genetics and genomics, said the award recipient “will be visiting NC State to meet with students and faculty and … to talk about his outstanding career. These will … be researchers — most likely full, distinguished and emeritus professors — and industry leaders.”

Following Eisen’s talk, Department Head Dr. Todd See presented him with a plaque, acknowledging his past and ongoing contributions to the department, the university and genetics.

Eisen is recognized as key figure in animal breeding and genetics, particularly in quantitative genetics — a field focused on understanding complex plant and animal characteristics controlled by multiple genes.

He joined the university in 1964, and over the course of five decades made significant contributions in the genetic and environmental aspects of reproduction and growth. He was a key pioneer in developing the laboratory mouse as a model organism for studying livestock genetics. Using the mouse, Eisen designed experimental methods that helped animal breeders select for traits of economic importance, such as feed efficiency, litter size and fat/lean ratio.

Eisen traced his interest in animal science to childhood trips from his home in the Bronx to farming regions in New York’s mountains. He was the first in his family to get a university education, graduating from The State University of New York at Framingdale, then the University of Georgia, before going on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees at Purdue University.

Eisen reflected on the growth and improvement of NC State, with better campus facilities, a more diverse faculty and student body, and better guidance for junior faculty pursuing promotion. (Referring to his early years at NC State, he said it was “like flying in the clouds without a radar.”)

Still, joining NC State’s faculty “was the best professional decision I ever made,” he said. He made a special point to note several successful collaborations with former students, scientists from other institutions, and other departmental faculty members, including the late Jim Leatherwood, a nutrition expert.

“Scientists do not live alone,” he said, before speaking directly to the graduate students present. “When you see the opportunity to collaborate on an equal basis with a colleague, take it. Run with it, because you can learn a lot from your colleagues.”

– D. Shore