Retired Ohio State Virologist 'A True Hero for Science, Agriculture'
Mo Saif retired after almost 50 years of research and administrative service to OARDC. (Photo by Ken Chamberlain)
WOOSTER, Ohio -- When the topic of poultry diseases or the science behind the transmission of influenza viruses between animal species is discussed anywhere in the world, odds are the name of Mo Saif will come up in those discussions. And there's also a good chance those doing the talking have been impacted by his work or his mentoring.
The head of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s (OARDC) Food Animal Health Research Program (FAHRP) since 1993, Saif retired early this year, following an illustrious career of more than 50 years in both Egypt and the United States.
OARDC is the research arm of Ohio State University's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
Saif is recognized internationally as a leading researcher in the field of poultry diseases, having discovered and advanced knowledge concerning viral infections that affect the intestinal tract and the immune system of turkeys and chickens.
He was also a pioneer in figuring out how influenza viruses can be shared between different animal species, such as turkeys and swine, and how they change in the process. Saif's research in this arena has also contributed to the medical community's understanding of influenza viruses that jump from animals to humans.
"But his legacy does not stop there," said Jeff LeJeune, an Ohio State microbiologist and veterinary researcher who has taken the helm at FAHRP. "He is also respected for his compassionate, yet exceedingly effective leadership style, which has positively impacted hundreds of scientists around the world now serving in a variety of scientific pursuits."
Many of those scientists traveled to Wooster in January to join Saif at his retirement reception. One of them, Chris Hayhow, director of regulatory affairs for animal healthcare company Merial Limited, is one of the 33 graduate students Saif advised during his career at Ohio State.
"Mo gave you the tools to do things on your own, and if you failed, he'd help work through it. He didn't just tell you: He'd show you,” said Hayhow, who first met Saif in 1988. "He is one of the best listeners I’ve ever known. And he always trusted people to do things right."
Saif's contributions go well beyond the world of academia. Tim Barman, longtime veterinarian at Cooper Farms, a large poultry and swine operation in western Ohio, said Saif always makes himself available to help and is a great consensus builder and leader.
"Mo has a great mind, great memory," Barman said. "He is extremely knowledgeable, regardless of animal species. And he knows people all over the world that he can call on to help you with any issue you may have.
"Mo cares about the producers, about the people who grow our food. He listens to everybody."
Saif was born in Cairo, Egypt, in 1934. He graduated from Cairo University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1958. After graduation, he worked as an avian and large animal veterinarian and also taught at his alma mater.
Saif came to Ohio State in 1962 to complete his master's and doctoral degrees in veterinary preventive medicine. After graduation, he stayed at OARDC as a research assistant (1965-67) and a postdoctoral fellow (1967-68).
He then joined the faculty at OARDC as an assistant professor of veterinary and poultry science in 1968, becoming associate professor in 1973 and professor in 1977. Saif was also named assistant dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1993. Under his leadership, FAHRP has become an internationally recognized research program tackling some of the most pressing animal disease threats today.
"Mo Saif is inspirational as an internationally known scientist and as a person who cares deeply about the people in his program as well as the welfare of people and programs in the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences," OARDC Director Steve Slack said.
"If you ever needed assistance, Mo would give you his right arm and, as he was leaving, would ask you if you also needed the left arm. He is simply an outstanding person and scientist. I am privileged to call him a friend."
Saif was editor-in-chief of the 11th and 12th editions of the book Diseases of Poultry. He is also the author of 22 book chapters, 163 articles in refereed journals and more than 250 other publications. Additionally, he has given more than 100 presentations and guest lectures all over the United States and the world, and has served on a number of international and national committees on animal health.
"One of the highest honors a professor can achieve is not measured by the number of papers one publishes, or the amount grant dollars one acquires (which, by the way, in Mo's case have been exceptional), but rather by how one is viewed by his students, employees, peers and administrators," LeJeune said.
"In this regard, without question, Mo has been a true hero for science, agriculture and academia. As one colleague noted, 'Mo is a national treasure. He is one of the smartest people I know. And one of the kindest.'"
Not surprisingly, retirement for Saif does not mean an end to his scientific and scholarly activities. "I got me a new job, as editor of the (international) journal Avian Diseases," he said. "You have to keep your mind sharp."