Compiled by Ann Hess
The swine industry is grieving today after the loss of one its most profound scientists in PRRS research. Mike Murtaugh, a professor of virology and immunology at the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, passed away Tuesday morning, following a battle with pancreatic cancer.
Murtaugh was also recognized today as the 2018 Allen D. Leman Swine Conference recipient of the Pijoan Lecture for his 30-year research into the PRRS virus and how his work on such a devastating disease has become a model for advancing progress in the industry.
“The Pijoan lectureship is not my honor and this is not my talk,” says Michael Rahe, a 2017 graduate under Murtaugh who filled in to give the keynote lecture at the Leman conference. “That honor and this talk belong to a man I have the highest regard for, my former adviser Dr. Mike Murtaugh.”
Murtaugh, who held a doctorate in entomology from Ohio State University, based his research program at the University of Minnesota on the molecular mechanisms of disease resistance in pigs. His contributions to science has made many significant advances in fundamental porcine immunobiology related to immune protection and immunomodulation; porcine antiviral immunity, including lymphocyte memory and mechanisms of protection; and molecular virology, evolution and discovery sciences to elucidate viral origins and evolution as a means to understand genetic diversity and immunological challenges.
“Mike Murtaugh is a scientist and not a veterinarian. His goal as a faculty member has always been to better understand the mechanisms of disease resistance in swine,” Rahe says. “The tools which Mike has used toward PRRS are molecular biology and immunology. He has used molecular biology to understand the PRRS virus pathogen, since you must first know the pathogen to assess the immune response and then immunology to assess the quality of immune response.”
Murtaugh significantly advanced the field of knowledge of PRRS, PCV2 and PED viruses’ evolution, pathogenesis and immunity, and his work will continue to impact the U.S. and global swine industries.
“Getting out of the comfortable confinements of the academic laboratory was essential for this and without the support of students, colleagues, veterinarians and producers nothing … would have been accomplished,” Rahe says. “Part of Mike’s legacy will be the next generation of scientifically-trained swine health specialists.”
The Pijoan lecture is named in honor of Carlos Pijoan for his work in the area of swine respiratory disease and the influence of swine production systems on the dynamics of microorganism, such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome virus, Haemophilus parasuis, Streptocococcus suis and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae. In 1982, he joined the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, where he was the founder and director of the Swine Disease Eradication Center and a professor in the Veterinary Population Medicine department. Pijoan passed away Jan. 9, 2007, after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.