School of Molecular and Cellular Biology Remembers Dr. Abigail Salyers

Abigail Salyers

The Department of Microbiology is hosting a memorial symposium in honor of Abigail Salyers on November 7 & 8, 2014

Microbial Diversity – A Tribute to the Life and Work of Abigail Salyers

Please visit the Salyers Symposium Website for more information about the exciting lineup of speakers and scientific program, as well as meeting registration, accommodations, and donation opportunities.

School raising funds to establish fellowship award in memory of Dr. Salyers

Abigail Salyers

During her 40-year career, Abigail A. Salyers, PhD, revolutionized how we think about the bacteria that live in the human intestinal tract, made major contributions on carbohydrate metabolism and the transfer of antibiotic resistance carried on mobile elements in humans and animals and provided advice and insights on bioterrorism, transgenic plant safety, antibiotic resistance in medicine and agriculture, and more. The former Arends Professor Emerita of Microbiology is remembered for her intellect, sense of humor, and exceptional ability to teach and mentor others as a professor, graduate advisor, and colleague.

Dr. Salyers joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1978 and became the first female tenured professor in Microbiology in 1983 and a full professor in 1988. While at the university, she was named a University Scholar, Faculty Member of the Year in the College of Medicine, a member of the Center for Advanced Study and an Affiliate in the Institute for Genomic Biology. She received the Pasteur Award for Research and Teaching, the All-Campus Award for Excellence in Teaching in the University of Illinois Medical School and the three time recipient of the Golden Apple Award for Medical School Teaching. In 2004, she was named the G. William Arends Professor in Molecular and Cellular Biology until her retirement in 2012.

Abigail Salyers

Among the books she authored are:  Bacterial Pathogenesis:  A Molecular Approach, (by A. A. Salyers and Dixie Whitt) first published in 1994 and now in its Third Edition; Bacterial Resistance to Antimicrobials, (by A. A. Salyers and co-authors) first published in 2002 and is now in its Second Edition; and Revenge of the Microbes, (by A. A. Salyers and D. Whitt) was published by 2005.  It was a popular treatment of the latest scientific information in the fields of microbial pathogenesis and antibiotic resistance. 

Dr. Salyers was assisted in her research and publications by Research Associates, Nadja B. Shoemaker, Gui-Rong Wang and over 30 Graduate Students working on their Ph.D. and Master’s Degrees in Microbiology at the University of Illinois. Her five books, over 200 peer-reviewed research articles, reviews and chapters in books edited by others, were read by fellow microbiologists and biochemists and her papers were widely cited by scientists worldwide.

Her research was supported by the Department of Energy and the National Institutes of Health. In recognition of her standing in the scientific community, she served several terms as a member on the National Institutes of Health panels that reviewed research grants. She was awarded an honorary Doctorate from ETH University in Zurich, Switzerland, in 2001. She served as Co-Director of the Microbial Diversity Summer Course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, from 1995 to 1999.

Abigail Salyers

During the anthrax episodes in 2001, Dr. Salyers served as President of the 40,000 member American Society for Microbiology, the oldest and largest single life science membership organization in the world. She educated local postal workers about the dangerous bacterium. When others believed more research should be devoted to studying anthrax and other bioterrorist agents, Dr. Salyers remained cognizant of the "most successful and dangerous of all bioterrorists"—Mother Nature. She stressed the need for more research on the spread of antibiotic resistance, hospital-acquired bacterial infections, and other diseases that threaten thousands of lives each year.

Throughout her career, she was dedicated to public outreach and education and numerous service roles. She was president of the board for  El Centro (a center that assists local Latino migrant workers), reviewed grants for the National Institutes for Health, and provided expert testimony on transgenic plants and antibiotic use in agriculture for regulatory agencies in Europe and the U.S.

Abigail A. Salyers Graduate Student Fellowship Award in Microbiology

Dr. Salyers died on November 6, 2013 and the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology would like to honor her memory and extraordinary contributions by creating a graduate fellowship award to benefit female graduate students and a symposium in her name in the Department of Microbiology.

Click here to make a contribution to the Abigail Salyers Memorial Fund online or donations can be mailed to the University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 West Green Street, MC-386, Urbana, IL 61801.  Please indicate that the donation is a memorial for Prof. Abigail Salyers.

Contact Sean Williams, development officer, School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, at (217) 300-4462 or with questions or assistance in making a donation.

Jeffrey Gardner, PhD, Department of Microbiology, University of Illinois
Claire Sturgeon, Institute for Genomic Biology, University of Illinois