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In Memoriam: Al Yousten, professor emeritus of biological sciences in the College of Science

August 31, 2016

Al Yousten

Al Yousten
Al Yousten

Alan Yousten, professor emeritus with the Department of Biological Sciences in the Virginia Tech College of Science, died Aug. 24. He was 79.

A memorial service for Yousten is scheduled for 2 p.m., Friday, Sept. 2, at McCoy Funeral Home in Blacksburg. A graveside service was held earlier this week in Racine, Wisconsin, Yousten’s hometown.

Yousten started his academic career at Virginia Tech in 1971 as a professor of microbiology, focusing his research on the microbiological control of insect pests, particularly the use of Bacillus thuringiensis (B.t.) and B. sphaericus for mosquito control, a prelude to the university’s recent work on controlling mosquitoes as a vector of the Zika virus.

He contributed more than 75 book chapters and research articles, with major funding for his research coming from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the World Health Organization. Before joining Virginia Tech, he previously worked as a research microbiologist at International Minerals & Chemical Corp. in Illinois and served in the U.S. Army.

In 1980, Yousten received a Fulbright Fellowship for research at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He also conducted research as a visiting professor at Arizona State University and at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, and had long-term research collaborations with colleagues in Russia and Brazil.

Department of Biological Sciences head Brenda Winkel credits Yousten as having helped lay the foundation for the College of Science’s current microbiology degree. He retired in 2001. “Dr. Yousten’s passing leaves a large hole in our department’s heart,” she said. “In addition to many professional contributions through his research, he provided enormously generous support of students and colleagues at all ranks.” 

Yousten was a member of the Department of Biological Science’s OWLS — Older Wiser Learned Scientists — a group of retired biology faculty members who meet monthly to hear presentations on research by current faculty.  

“The OWLS will miss Al’s love of science and his sense of humor,” said Robert Benoit, emeritus professor of biological sciences. “Al was a first-class bench scientist, and learning how to keep a mosquito colony in the lab is not a task for the faint of heart. When Al’s graduate students had to use dangerous chemicals in their research, such as mutagenic agents, he insisted on doing those phases of the research himself. He never lost his love for laboratory and field experimentation at any phase of his professional development.”

R. Martin Loop is a professor of microbiology and immunology at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina. A student at Virginia Tech during the late 1970s, Loop took Yousten’s general microbiology course as part of a biology requirement for veterinary school. The class changed his career path.

“I had the good fortune of having Al Yousten as the instructor for that course. Within the first few weeks after starting the course, I became fascinated by the prokaryotes and decided to redirect the focus of my education toward graduate study in bacteriology,” said Loop. “Almost 40 years later, I can truly say that I have never regretted that decision, and have been fortunate to have had a relatively successful career in the field. Al Yousten was a great teacher, and his passion for the prokaryotic world was infectious. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for opening up a career opportunity that turned out to be a labor of love.”

Yousten earned his bachelor of science degree in bacteriology from the University of Wisconsin, and his master’s and doctoral degrees in microbiology from Cornell University. 

According to a Roanoke Times obituary, the family requests that in lieu of flowers, those wishing to honor Yousten make contributions to the Humane Society of Montgomery County, P.O. Box 287, Blacksburg, VA, 24063, or to the National Ataxia Foundation, 2600 Fernbrook Lane, Suite 119, Minneapolis, MN, 55447, or to a Humane Society in your community. 

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