PULLMAN, Wash.–Mel W. Eklund, retired National Marine Fisheries Service scientist, received the Washington State University Alumni Achievement Award Feb. 9 at a private ceremony in Seattle.
He was cited “for a distinguished career as an internationally recognized scientist in microbiology research, and for significant contributions to the fishing industry and food safety through innovative research designed for the protection of human and animal health.”
Eklund joined the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle more than 36 years ago. Before retiring in 1996, he was director of the Utlization Research Division for eight years.
He came to WSU from Chehalis. He holds two WSU degrees–a bachelor’s degree in agriculture (1955) and a master’s degree in food science and microbiology (1957). In 1961, he completed a doctorate in food science and microbiology at Purdue University.
His professional career has been devoted to protecting public health by increasing the safety of fishery products through basic and applied microbiology research. He is recognized internationally for his pioneering work in the field of bacteria involved in food poisoning, with special reference to Clostridium botulinum (bacteria causing botulism). His research has made major contributions to the understanding and control of Clostridium, not only in humans, but also in fish, animals and birds.
In the area of food safety, his research on both C. botulinum and Listeria monocytogenes has virtually saved the cold-smoked fish industry, and defined safety parameters for production of other seafood products such as imitation crab from surimi, shrimp meat and crab meat.
Eklund was the first to discover that bacterial viruses and plasmids govern the production of botulinal toxins. This research has resulted in major advances in understanding the genetics of the bacterium, production of specific toxins, and development of prevention and control systems.
One of his most important discoveries in fisheries research came in the early 1980s. For many decades, an unidentified disease had been killing juvenile salmon and steelhead in Washington and Oregon hatcheries. Losses from the disease exceeded 2.3 million fish from 1979 to 1982. The problem had become so great that at several facilities fish could not be raised in the rearing ponds between May and December. As a result, 70 percent died.
In a cooperative research project with the Washington State Department of Fisheries, Washington State Game Department, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Eklund identified the disease as botulism. He then discovered the cause of its spread in the hatchery rearing ponds and developed a program for its prevention. In subsequent years, botulism in the hatchery rearing ponds has been only a minor problem.
In addition to his research duties, Eklund often devoted time to help state and hospital laboratories, lacking facilities or personnel trained in detecting botulism, to confirm botulism food poisoning cases. In 1978, he confirmed the first case of infant botulism in Seattle.
In recognition of his scientific achievements, Eklund received the Gold Medal Award, the highest award given by the Department of Commerce; the Food and Drug Administration Commissioner’s Special Citation Award; and an Award of Sincere Appreciation and Thanks from the National Fisheries Institute for dedication and service to the seafood industry. He also has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.
He has published more than 100 papers in peer reviewed journals. He also has edited two books and currently is writing two other books.
“I owe a lot of credit to my professors at WSU,” Eklund said. In particular, he cited food scientists John V. Spencer and William J. Stadelman. Spencer was the major professor on Eklund’s master’s degree. Eklund followed Stadelman from WSU to Purdue University, where he completed his doctorate in food science and microbiology.
Eklund is a member of the National Advisory Committee on Microbiological Criteria for Food. In March 1997, he served on a committee to help prepare a National Food Safety Initiative for the President. He also serves on food safety committees for several states.
Eklund resides in Seattle with his wife Helen.