University of Chicago Plant Geneticist Edward D. Garber, 1918-2004

November 22, 2004

Edward D. Garber, PhD, a plant geneticist and professor emeritus of ecology and evolution at the University of Chicago, died of kidney failure Oct. 9, 2004, at the age of 86, in Skokie, Ill.

Born in Manhattan in 1918, Garber spent his 50-plus-year career dedicated to genetic research, teaching and international projects.

"He worked very nearly up until his death bed," said colleague Manfred Ruddat, PhD, associate professor of ecology and evolution at Chicago. Ruddat collaborated with Garber studying anther smut, a fungal organism that changes the sex expression of the host plant, white campion (Silene latifolia).

Much like Mendel and his famous peas in the 19th century, Garber distinguished many variations of color and shape to understand the genetics of anther smut. "Although we don't yet know how many chromosomes it has, [Garber] was able to genetically map the organism," Ruddat said.

In the mid-1970s, Garber spent a number of summers at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, under the auspices of the U.S.-Israel Bi-National Science Foundation. Using a process called electrophoresis, he helped the Israelis genetically identify varieties of prawns that would flourish in brackish water ponds rather than commercial tank fisheries.

Other Israeli projects included breeding hybrid carp and developing yeast as protein sources for people.

During that same time back on campus, Garber worked with Richard J. Boyajian of University Lab School to develop the human genetics curriculum for the city's school system. The project was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Garber was awarded a New York state grant that paid part of his tuition to Cornell University, where he graduated in 1940 with a bachelor's degree in botany. Two years later, he earned a master's degree in genetics from the University of Minnesota. He then joined the U.S. Army and served for four years.

After his discharge in 1946, Garber went to the University of California-Berkeley under the GI Bill, and by 1949, he had earned a doctorate in genetics.

He then worked for several years at the Office of Naval Research in Oakland before realizing he wanted to be in an academic setting. In 1953, he joined the University of Chicago and remained there until retirement in 1988, when he became professor emeritus.

As a plant geneticist, Garber wrote more than 150 papers, books and reviews. His first published work was his 1949 dissertation on the genetics of sorghum that received the University of California-Berkeley's John Belling Prize in Genetics the following year.

In 1982 he was honored with the University of Chicago's Quantrell Award for Excellence in Teaching. A decade later, the alumni association of the university's Biological Sciences Division presented Garber its Gold Key Award, recognizing his service to the institution.

After working together for more than 30 years and collaborating on about 20 papers, Ruddat remembers his colleague as a dedicated researcher, teacher and friend.

Garber served as a team member for the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement, and he served for nearly three decades as co-editor of the International Journal of Plant Sciences (1992-2000), formerly the Botanical Gazette (1974-1992).

Garber's enthusiasm for science was evident to his students, many of whom attended his funeral, Ruddat said. "He had an uncanny ability to keep in contact with many of the people who came into in his life, which is not always easy."

Garber was also a fencing enthusiast. He was on the fencing team at Cornell, and never lost his love for the sport after graduating, according to Ruddat, adding that Garber would often help out Chicago's fencing team.

Garber is survived by his wife of 61 years, Rosalie; two daughters, Martha and Jane; son Joel; and two grandchildren, Becky and Matt.

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