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Thomas Jones Byers (1935-2003).

Thomas Jones Byers, age 67, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Molecular Genetics, The Ohio State University, died at the OSU Arthur James Cancer Hospital, 21 September 2003, after a four-year illness with multiple myeloma. Byers, who came to OSU in 1964, was the University's first "molecular biologist." He was an original member and founder of the Molecular Genetics Department and the first director of the Graduate Program in Developmental Biology. Byers, who had a general interest in science, joined The Ohio Academy of Science in 1976.

Born 12 October 1935 to Ralph W., Jr. and Dorothy (French) Byers in Philadelphia, PA, and raised in Wenonah, NJ, Thomas J. Byers received his early education in that community. Tom received the B.A. in biology from Cornell University (1958) and the Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Pennsylvania (1962). He pursued post-doctoral education as a fellow in biophysics in the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC (1962-1964). At The Ohio State University, Dr. Byers was an Assistant Professor of Zoology and Entomology (1964-1968), Associate Professor of Microbiology and Cell Biology (1964-1977), Professor of Microbiology (1977-1987), Professor of Molecular Genetics (1987-1995), and upon retirement became Professor Emeritus (1995-2003). Concurrently, he was the first Director of the Graduate Program in Developmental Biology (1972-1975), visiting Professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Alabama, Birmingham (1987), and an Associate Dean of the College of Biological Sciences (1990-1995).

Tom Byers authored more than 40 articles and 90 abstracts in scientific journals. He was one of three editors of the book, Genetics and Biogenesis of Mitochondria and Chloroplasts (1975), which resulted from the first Biosciences Colloquium sponsored by the College of Biological Sciences of The Ohio State University in 1974. Dr. Byers served on numerous departmental, college, and university committees. He was particularly interested in those that were people related, among them were affirmative action, junior faculty development, and mentoring new faculty and graduate students--especially minority members of the latter group. Byers was a member of the Society of Protozoology, the American Society of Microbiology, and founder of the International Conference on Free-living Pathogenic Amoebas.

Tom Byers' research concerned the cell growth, differentiation, and developmental biology of protozoa, particularly the basic molecular biology and phylogeny of pathogenic amoebas; including the development of DNA-based diagnostic reagents for the detection and identification of those amoebas associated with human disease. One of Byers' basic research efforts was to identify and determine controls for the infection-producing strains. Heightened concern for these organisms in public health risks surfaced in the early 1970s when the amoeba Acanthamoeba castellanii was discovered causing an infection called Acanthamoeba keratitis. This infection occurs in the cornea of the eye, which is extremely painful, difficult to treat medically, and can cause blindness. Byers was able to provide, through the DNA analysis, an unequivocal epidemiologic link connecting the amoeba Acanthamoeba griffini occurring in domestic tap water, through the contact lens storage case, to the initiation of the disease keratitis causing the infection in the eye of a patient. This particular amoeba previously was not known to cause infections in human beings. Of his research, Byers has said in interviews: "I've always been interested in basic cell biology, but I'm influenced strongly by the need to apply basic methodology to solve disease problems." Dr. Byer's research is described further in the College magazine Synergy (10[1]:6-8. 1989).

As stated in the Resolution of Memoriam by the OSU Board of Trustees, Tom was a faculty member who had the remarkable ability to balance his skillful classroom teaching with his innovative research program and people-related service activities. As an administrator he worked to make the college a friendlier place by making an effort to determine people's needs. While it is easy to generate many ideas, the good ideas came from the people themselves, was Byers essential philosophy. Tom had concern for others, a considerate and kind disposition, an unassumed modesty, and a positive and upbeat outlook in the face of adversity.

Thomas Jones Byers is survived, after 43 years of marriage, by his wife, Sandra Alice (Roberts) Byers; two children, son Stephen Byers and daughter Linda (Byers) Fontana; four grandchildren; and one brother, the Rev. Andrew C. Byers. A memorial service was held 25 September 2003 in the Worthington Presbyterian Church, where Tom participated as an active member. The Rodman Funeral Service was in charge of the arrangements. Memorial donations may be made to the Worthington Presbyterian Church or the OSU Department of Molecular Genetics, 484 West 12th Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1292.
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Title Annotation:Necrology
Author:Stuckey, Ronald L.
Publication:The Ohio Journal of Science
Article Type:Biography
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
Words:761
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