VIMS professor honored for lifetime contribution to shellfish science

  • Honoring BurresonChancellor Professor Eugene Burreson (L) accepts the Honored Life Member Award from the National Shellfisheries Association (NSA) during their 101st Annual Meeting in Savannah, GA. Presenting the award is long-time colleague Susan Ford of Rutgers University.

    Courtesy photo

    Honoring Burreson
Dr. Eugene Burreson, Chancellor Professor of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, has received an Honored Life Member Award from the National Shellfisheries Association for outstanding contributions to the field of shellfish biology.

Burreson, whose career at VIMS spans 33 years, is an internationally recognized shellfish pathologist and a pioneer in the study of MSX and Dermo, diseases that affect oyster stocks worldwide. In 2001, the Office International de Epizooties (OIE) designated Burreson's laboratory at VIMS as the international OIE Reference Laboratory for these diseases.

Burreson's study of the biology, genetics, and transmission of the parasites that cause MSX and Dermo has been instrumental in the on-going effort to breed disease-resistant strains of the native oyster Crassostrea virginica. VIMS now offers several lines of disease-resistant oyster stock to shellfish growers throughout the mid-Atlantic.

Most recently, Burreson has played a key role in evaluating the potential introduction of non-native oyster species to Chesapeake Bay, particularly in regards to understanding the emergence of the Bonamia parasite in experimental trials of Asian oysters in North Carolina.

During his career, Burreson has authored more than 70 publications related to shellfish diseases, and 50 more on fish parasites. One of many seminal studies was his 2000 paper in the Journal of Aquatic Animal Health linking the appearance of MSX disease in Chesapeake Bay with a failed commercial introduction of the non-native oyster Crassostrea gigas during the 1950s.

Burreson also plays a significant international role in managing shellfish health. His research has led to development of molecular tests that are used in laboratories around the world to detect shellfish pathogens. His program also works directly with governments and investigators worldwide to identify, detect, and manage shellfish pathogens and diseases.

Nearer home, Burreson works closely with the East Coast oyster and clam industries to prevent the spread of diseases through interstate shellfish transfers. His laboratory performs health examinations prior to most shellfish transfers to or from Virginia.

Dr. Roger Mann, Director of Research and Advisory Service at VIMS, says "The NSA Honored Life Member Award has only been given 54 times in the 101-year history of the Association, and this covers a global footprint. Gene's contributions clearly rank with the very best in shellfish biology over the past century. Gene personifies excellence in VIMS' mission of research, education and extension."

The award also recognizes Burreson's lifelong accomplishments in teaching. He received VIMS' Outstanding Teacher Award in 1989 and the William and Mary Alumni Fellow for Outstanding Teaching Award in 2003. Colleagues Ryan Carnegie and Kim Reece write that "Gene has been an outstanding mentor to graduate students, post-docs, and junior faculty alike."

Founded in 1908, the National Shellfisheries Association (NSA) is an international organization of scientists, policymakers, and industry with interests in shellfish resources. The Association has more than 600 members from the U.S., Canada, and 32 other nations.