Science Page: Remembering Professor Mike Murtaugh

This is our Friday rubric: every week a new Science Page from the Bob Morrison’s Swine Health Monitoring Project. The previous editions of the science page are available on our website.

This week, we are remembering Professor Mike Murtaugh with Cheryl Dvorak.

Michael MurtaughProfessor Michael Murtaugh, PhD, passed away Tuesday September 18 from complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 67.

Mike joined the college in 1985 and spent the entirety of his University of Minnesota career in the Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. He was a consummate faculty member, excelling in teaching graduate courses and conducting research and
outreach. Mike authored more than 225 peer-reviewed journal articles, was the primary advisor for 30 Master’s and PhD students, and held three U.S. patents. His influence extended throughout the Academic Health Center at the University and throughout the world. At the time of his death, Mike was serving on the editorial boards of more than a dozen academic journals, and had successfully completed nearly 160 sponsored projects as Principal Investigator or Co-Investigator.

Mike was a respected and highly sought after mentor. He always had people coming and going from his office asking for scientific, career, and personal advice. His door was always open and he always stopped what he was doing to help others. He touched many
lives during his career. Besides his numerous graduate student advisees, he also mentored over fifteen veterinary students, thirty-six undergraduate and high school students, twelve post-doctoral researchers, twenty visiting scientists, and numerous others who came to him for advice and support. He cared about everyone not only scientifically, but also personally. He always wanted to do what was in a student’s best interests, even though it may not have been what was in his best interest. His lasting legacy is in the scientific training and education of a generation of swine health specialists and researchers.

Prof. Murtaugh was an international leader in swine immunology, and devoted considerable effort over the past 25 years in battling the Porcine
Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus (PRRSv), a disease that
costs U.S. swine producers alone some $500 million annually. Mike used
molecular biological approaches to first understand the nature of PRRSv
and investigated in detail the immunological response of pigs to this pathogen.

Mike earned the B.S. degree in biology at the University of Notre Dame and
then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela. He earned a Ph.D. in entomology at the Ohio State University. The University of Texas Medical School in Houston was his next stop— he spent four years in a post-doctoral position in the Departments of Internal Medicine and Pharmacology— before assuming a faculty position in St. Paul.

He will be remembered for his dry sense of humor and positive outlook on life, character traits that he maintained even as his battle with cancer raged. Mike cared passionately about science and derived some of his greatest personal satisfaction working on the college’s Strategic Plan and the International Conference on One Medicine and One Science (iCOMOS). Mike cared deeply about science informing policy and saw the need for scientists to be more actively involved in communicating about their research.

I am grateful to have known him, and stand in awe of the many contributions he made to our college.

Passing of Dr. Mike Murtaugh, colleague and friend

Tribute from the National Hog Farmer.

Michael MurtaughThe 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.