Chicken. It’s what’s for dinner in most American households, according to recent
data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. United States consumers ate
90 pounds of chicken per capita in 2015. With projections for a continued rise
in poultry consumption, the importance for the poultry industry to produce the
healthiest chickens possible remains paramount.
Thankfully, a $25,000 gift from the Briles Family Foundation has made it possible
West Virginia University researcher to focus on this very outcome in the
Robert L. Taylor
, Jr., professor and director of the
Division of Animal and Nutritional Sciences
in the WVU
Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design
School of Agriculture and Food
, will utilize funding from the newly established Elwood and Ruth Briles Avian
Alloantigen Support Fund to characterize chicken alloantigen systems, or blood
groups, and examine their impact on disease
resistance. This research area is familiar to Taylor, just as it was to late researchers
Worthie Elwood Briles (1918-2016) and Ruth W. Briles (1919-2011), for whom the
memorial fund is named.
“Dr. Briles’s research demonstrated a relationship between certain chicken alloantigens,
or blood group systems, and characteristics having economic importance like animal
health, egg production, growth and other related traits,” Taylor said. “After his
passing, his family wanted that work to continue.”
Such work was the area to which the Brileses had dedicated their entire careers,
making many groundbreaking discoveries on alloantigens. Elwood Briles first identified
the chicken A and B blood groups while earning his doctorate in immunogenetics,
which he received in 1948 from the University of Wisconsin. In that same year,
Ruth Briles received her master’s in immunogenetics.
From 1948 to 1957, Elwood Briles served as an assistant and associate professor of
poultry science at Texas A&M University. While there, he continued making discoveries
in chicken blood groups, identifying three more systems.
In the years that followed, the Briles family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where both
Elwood Briles and Ruth Briles worked as researchers in immunogenetics at the DeKalb
Agricultural Association followed by teaching roles at Northern Illinois University.
Their continued innovative investigations advanced the scientific community’s understanding
of the thirteen chicken alloantigen systems. In 2004, Elwood and Ruth were jointly
recognized for their significant contributions to avian immunogenetics by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture.
Taylor, whose research has centered on chicken alloantigen systems and their effects,
collaborated frequently with the Brileses and, as a result, became close with the
“In addition to being a good family friend, Dr. Taylor is someone we respect a great
deal,” said Susan Kniebes, the oldest of the three Briles children. “We know he
will continue the work that our parents started, so our wish was to support him
in that effort.”
“Dr. and Mrs. Briles had worked with my predecessor at the University of New Hampshire,”
Taylor said. “When I joined that faculty, I began cooperative work with them that
continued for 32 years – from 1984 to 2016. Inevitably, we developed a relationship
based on shared interests and mutual respect, publishing 22 papers together. Their
collaboration was undoubtedly crucial to my scientific career."
Though a lot has been uncovered on chicken alloantigen systems to this point, there
is still much left to learn.
“We know that alloantigens affect traits that impact the poultry industry’s costs,”
Taylor said. “Identifying alloantigen genes will be a significant step to understanding
relationships between the blood groups and poultry health.
“This understanding would ultimately lead to producing a better chicken.”
The Briles Family Foundation gift was made in conjunction with A State of Minds: The Campaign for West Virginia’s University which runs through December 2017.
Pictured above, top to bottom: Robert L. Taylor, Jr. (upper left) and Ruth and Elwood Briles in an avian research lab.
CONTACT: Nikky Luna; WVU Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design