Young named Texas A&M Distinguished Professor

Researcher honored for discoveries in bacterial viruses

Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, b-fannin@tamu.edu

COLLEGE STATION – Dr. Ryland Young, Regents Professor and Sadie Hatfield Professor of Agriculture in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University, has been named University Distinguished Professor.

Young’s research focuses on bacterial viruses, also known as bacteriophage or phage.  Considered out of the mainstream focus of scientific studies, Young’s work has centered on how a protein or proteins within a virus, known as “phage” in scientific circles, does the same thing to bacteria cell walls as antibiotics. This science is important since many disease-causing bacteria have become resistant to antibiotics.

Dr. Ryland Young, Regents Professor and Sadie Hatfield Professor of Agriculture in the department of biochemistry and biophysics at Texas A&M University, has been named University Distinguished Professor. (Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Blair Fannin)

Young and his research team at the Center for Phage Technology, jointly sponsored by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M University, have not only developed better understanding of phage, but also bacteria in general. The applications have been useful for designing drugs to combat E. coli, pneumonia, staph infection, ear infections, Lyme disease and other bacterial infections in livestock and crops.

“We are extremely proud of Dr. Young’s cutting-edge research achievements that span many decades here at Texas A&M,” said Dr. Patrick Stover, vice chancellor of agriculture and life sciences at Texas A&M. “He is truly deserving of this prestigious honor, recognized among Texas A&M’s top researchers.”

Young, who has been at Texas A&M since 1978, earned his doctorate in molecular biology from the University of Texas at Dallas and did his post-doctoral training at Harvard Medical School.

“It’s most pleasing to be recognized by my colleagues here at Texas A&M as well those in the scientific community abroad,” Young said. “The area of research I’m in is a very, very small field. I’m one of the few survivors of the field of bacterial virus research, which nearly died out completely during the 1990s, and the time has now come that phages are used to save human lives.”

Young worked with fellow researchers across the country to use phage treatment to save the life of Dr. Tom Patterson, a professor at UC San Diego School of Medicine, who while on a trip to Egypt became infected with a multi-resistant strain of Acinetobacter baumannii, a deadly pathogen.

Dr. Susan Golden, distinguished professor in the division of biological sciences, molecular biology section at the University of California San Diego, wrote in a support letter, “The fundamental research carried out by Ry’s lab over the years underpins so much of modern phage biology that it’s difficult to imagine what the state of the field would be in his absence – undoubtedly poorer and perhaps non-existent – as he persevered during years and even decades when phage biology was viewed by many as passe and only a few labs carried on.”     

The distinguished professor designation denotes a faculty member who is recognized in the top 5 percent of their field by peers throughout the world. Academic units nominate the faculty members and support letters are compiled from top researchers in the nominee’s field. Following committee approval, the title is granted by the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System.

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