Ben Roy Burmester

  • Born: 1910 (USA)
  • Died: 2009
  • Inducted: 2013
Ben Burmester was born, and later died, in Petaluma, California, USA. His parents operated a small poultry farm in Petaluma. He earned BS, MS and PhD degrees from the University of California, Berkeley. He later received the DVM degree from Michigan State University. He joined the research staff of the USDA Regional Poultry Research Laboratory (now Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory) in East Lansing, Michigan in 1940 where he served for 34 years, first as a poultry physiologist and later as a research veterinarian. He was director of the laboratory from 1964-1974.

Ben was considered one of the original pioneers in cancer virology. He was best known for his groundbreaking work on avian leukosis; he demonstrated the causative virus and determined the principal routes of its transmission. His RPL-12 isolate of avian leukosis virus, recovered from a transplantable lymphoid tumor established by Carl Olson, was widely used for many years.

In the 1960s he recruited and led a team that contributed critical knowledge on Marek’s disease, including demonstration of the causative herpesvirus and development of the HVT vaccine. Even though credit is shared with other laboratories, this accomplishment was a capstone for Ben’s illustrious career, and garnered many accolades.

Under his leadership, the RPRL emerged as a major contributor to avian tumor virus research. In his retirement, he worked with Jagdev Sharma on early models for in ovo vaccination of chickens against Marek’s disease.

He was a past president of the American Association of Avian Pathologists (1961-1962) and of the World Veterinary Poultry Association (1977-1981). He received more than 20 major awards for his research, including election to the Poultry Hall of Fame and the Distinguished Service Award from USDA.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of international relationships. He traveled widely, invited many international scientists to his laboratory and developed many friendships around the world.

Ben and his first wife, Mary Alice, built a cottage on Bass Lake in Michigan which provided many of his happiest hours. He was a dedicated gardener. He later married Zoe Alderman and spent his final years in Idaho and California.

WVPA thanks Dick Witter for compiling this profile.

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