CRWAD 2014 Dedicatee

CRWAD 2014 Dedicatee, Dr. Donald C. Robertson, Rockford, IllinoisDr. Don Robertson grew up on a 160 acre dairy farm outside of Rockford, Illinois.  He started thinking about college at an early age since asthma and severe allergies prevented him from pursuing a career associated with agriculture.  He attended the University of Dubuque, Dubuque, IA where he received a B.S in chemistry.

His first exposure to research on animal pathogens was in 1962 at the National Animal Disease Laboratory (NADL) in Ames, IA.  His graduate research at the NADL focused on identification and characterization of the pathways and key enzymes that catabolize glucose in Brucella abortus, Brucella suis, and Brucella melitensis. After earning the PhD in biochemistry from Iowa State University in 1967, Don moved to the Department of Biochemistry at Michigan State University for a post–doctoral fellowship focused on purification and characterization of proteins.  He joined the faculty in the Department of Microbiology at the University of Kansas on June 1, 1970 where he remained until he took a position as Head of Microbiology and Biochemistry at the University of Idaho in1992.  He accepted a position as Associate Director of Research and Extension in the Idaho Experiment Station in 1998 and moved to Kansas State University in 2000 as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies and Professor of Microbiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine.  In 2005 he returned to full–time research and teaching and retired in 2008 as Professor emeritus of Microbiology.

Dr. Robertson was blessed during his career with numerous outstanding graduate students and post–doctoral fellows who have gone on to successful careers in academia and industrial positions. Fifteen students earned their PhDs working in his laboratory.  His initial research program at the University of Kansas focused on mechanisms used by B. abortus and other facultative intracellular parasites to survive within phagocytic cells and often grow at a rate similar to complex media.  Sugar transport systems, the erythritol catabolic pathway, and lipopolysaccharides associated with smooth and rough strains of B. abortus were characterized.  The association, ingestion, degranulation and killing reactions of polymorpnuclear leukocytes(PMNs) incubated with smooth and rough strains of B. abortus were characterized.  In addition, the brucellacidal activity of PMN granule extracts against smooth virulent and rough avirulent strains was determined.

In 1975 his laboratory began studies on the pathogenesis of enterotoxigenic Escherchia coli (ETEC), which cause disease in neonatal animals (piglets, calves and lambs), human infants and travelers to underdeveloped countries.  The primary focus was on two kinds of enterotoxins that cause watery diarrhea and are produced after adherence of ETEC to small intestinal cells.  One enterotoxin is a low–molecular heat–stable peptide containing 18 or 19 amino acids known as STa and the second is a high molecular protein enterotoxin consisting of two kinds of subunits known as the heat–labile enterotoxin (LT).  Both enterotoxins were purified to homogeneity and characterized with respect to chemical and immunological properties and association with intestinal cells.  Antisera raised to STa coupled to protein carriers were used to develop both radioimmunoassays (RIAs) and enzyme linked immunosorbent assays (ELISAs).  Purified human and porcine LTs were used to raise specific antisera and characterize the immunological properties and cross reactions of LTs produced by human and porcine ETEC clinical isolates.  Deletion mutants of the STa receptor, which is a transmembrane protein with several functional domains including the extracellular binding domain for STa, and the intracellular enzyme activity that is activated and converts intracellular guanosine triphosphate (GTP) to  guanosine cyclic 3', 5' – phosphate(cGMP), were used to study the mechanism of action of STa.  The heat–stable enterotoxin produced by Yersinia entercolitica (YSTa) was purified to homogeneity and characterized with respect to chemical and immunological properties.  Also, studies were performed to determine virulence factors associated with atypical strains of Y. enterocolitia isolated from patients with diarrheal disease that do not produce a classical heat–stable enterotoxin.

Don taught undergraduate courses in General Microbiology, Pathogenic Microbiology and a graduate level course in Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenicity at the University of Kansas.   He taught a graduate level course in Pathogenic Mechanisms at the University of Idaho.  Also, he participated in a team–taught microbiology course for second year veterinary students in the College of Veterinary Medicine, KSU from 2005 to 2007. 

Dr. Robertson served on the Bacteriology and Mycology 2 Study section, National Institutes of Health from 1978 to 1983 and the Cholera Panel, U.S. – Japan Cooperative Medical Science Program from1984 to 1992.  He was granted a life membership in the Conference of Research Workers in Animal Diseases in 2009.  Also, he was a member of the editorial boards for Infection and Immunity and Applied and Environmental Microbiology from 1983 to 1996.  He served as an administrative advisor for the Minor Use Animal Drug Program (NRSP–7) from 1999 to 2005. He is a member of several professional organizations including the American Society of Microbiology, American Academy of Microbiology, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, American Association of University Professors, American Society for Advancement of Science, Sigma XI and Gamma Sigma Delta.

Don has been married to his wife Ronna for 52 years with 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren.  His hobbies include working on classic Ford cars, serving as president of the local classic car club for the past two years, service work with the Manhattan Lions Club, reading, and working in his yard.

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