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Gift from family foundation to advance poultry research at West Virginia University

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.

Robert L. Taylor, Jr. Thankfully, a $25,000 gift from the Briles Family Foundation has made it possible for one  West Virginia University researcher to focus on this very outcome in the months ahead.

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.

Ruth and Elwood Briles

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 family.

“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