NC State’s Edens Set for Retirement after 50 Years in Poultry

A longtime member of the NC State University poultry science faculty will be hanging up his lab coat in just a few months. But to hear him tell it it’s a wonder Dr. Frank Edens became a poultry professor at all.

I did not particularly like chickens as I was growing up. Most of the goes ahead and clean the chicken houses. I was exposed to professional poker scientist in 1964. And it piqued my interest. However, I had an ulterior motive because at the time the poultry department Virginia Tech needed students now felt if I could get in there, I can get into any other program there and my goal was ultimately become a county agent, but I wanted to study agricultural education. But once I got to Virginia Tech kill my longtime mentor gave me a job in my first quarter there, and I worked with him for four years, and then the work with another physiologist there, Harry van Craig. And then Paul Siegel, obviously, for those four years and Ben Cray became my advisor for a master’s program.

I want to talk for a moment about your research, particularly what was going on in North Carolina back in the 1990s.

Well, it was called poult enteritis mortality syndrome. It was a disease of young turkeys. We can place flocks and commercial flocks, and sometimes they would start dying and there was no stopping. You can have anywhere from 20 to 100% of a new flock that would be pleased that went die as a result of this disease. The E coli set them up and the viruses took them out. And once we figured out that portion of it, then we had some epidemiologists working with us and they were able to begin to track are these the coli may have emanated from and we restarted making movements based upon what we had found. And it took us five years to really get to the point where we can control it and it turns out it’s really quite simple to control it it’s increased bowel security. We rarely hear PAMPs anymore.

What’s on most poultry farmers minds right now is high path avian influenza. Where are we now with work to defeat HPAI?

Well, there is no correlation between HPAI and PEMS. PEMS is a disease that primarily affected turkeys. And we’ve taken care of that pretty much totally at this point. AI, on the other hand, is much more devastating. And the problem is that the virus that causes high path avian influenza can pass through other animals like swine, and it emerges with a reasserted genome and it becomes highly pathogenic not only to the birds not only to the pigs, but humans become very susceptible to it. And in areas where you have a high concentration of swine as well as poultry, and here again, AI affects all classes of poultry, not just chickens. There is always a possibility that you’re going to have a re-assorted virus that comes out, and you know cause devastation not only to the animals but tremendous loss of life, even in human beings. And we have several people in the department who work very closely with USDA to help to control these outbreaks. So it AI is nothing to laugh at. It’s a very serious a disease that has the potential to jump into the human population is worth

What is next for Frank Edens? I know coming up in July you are scheduled to start a phased retirement. Tell me about that.

Well, the phased retirement is very simple. I’m currently teaching a couple of courses, and we do not have anyone to replace me yet. One is endocrinology, and then the other one is a management course. And until we find someone who can teach the endocrinology and the management course or maybe two people, I have volunteered to come back in a halftime position to do that, one course of semester, but it also gives me some additional time to finish tying up my loose ends. I have about 20 papers that are still ready to be published. And I gotta get those out before I finally walk into the sunset. But it also gives me time though, to start thinking about what I’m going to do in retirement, I’m not going to be idle. I have a reference text that I’m planning to work on for teachers of avian physiology. Also, I’m going to be painting again. I like to work still lifes and portraits and that sort of thing a little more time to church and doing whatever comes up.

Thanks to Dee Shore of NC State University for her help with this story and Amanda Kerr for the image.