James B. Russell died 20 September 2009 at home in Manheim, N.Y., at the age of 59. At the time of his death, Jim was a senior scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (ARS), Ithaca, N.Y. Russell was a seminal influence in elucidating the role of microorganisms in the gastrointestinal tracts of ruminant animals and the impact these have on the health and well-being of their host.
Russell received a B.S. in microbiology from Cornell University, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in nutrition from the University of California at Davis, where he worked under the direction of Ransom L. (Lee) Baldwin. He then joined the faculty of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Illinois (1978), where he began his formal teaching career. In 1981 he returned to Ithaca as a research microbiologist with ARS. Inspired by the work of rumen microbiologist Robert Hungate, from whom he would learn anaerobic technique while a student at Davis, and by the quantitative approaches instilled by Baldwin, Russell strove to describe the interactions of microorganisms in the complex rumen ecosystem. He initially focused on factors that influenced the competition among microbes for limited nutrients, but eventually his work would extend to elucidating the mechanisms of action of feed additives, the survival of pathogenic microorganisms in the gut, and the role of rumen bacteria in several animal diseases, including grass tetany and laminitis.
Russell pioneered the application of the chemostat and ATP luminometry to anaerobic microbiology, which bore fruit in his developing the concepts of energy spilling and anion toxicity. This quantitative, bioenergetic approach to understanding the responses of gastrointestinal microorganisms to nutritional state and environmental conditions allowed the development of predictive models based on microbial function for digestion and nutrition of ruminants. Russell used this approach to construct the microbiology component of the "Cornell Net Carbohydrate Protein System" for feeding ruminant livestock, which is widely used by dairy and beef cattle producers to predict the nutrient utilization and performance of their animals. Russell's knowledge of microbiology and animal nutrition was not limited to the laboratory, and he often applied his research findings to the Russell's dairy herd in upstate New York.
Russell served the microbiological community in a number of capacities, including professorships in Animal Science and in Microbiology at Cornell. He served for many years as Chairman of the Rumen Function Conference and on the editorial boards of Applied and Environmental Microbiology, Microbiology, and Journal of Dairy Science. In recognition of Jim's numerous scientific contributions he was awarded the American Feed Industry Association Award (1993) and the American Society of Animal Science's Morrison Award (2008). He was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology in 1999.
Russell was an enthusiastic instructor and had a special knack for being able to explain complex concepts in simple, easyto- understand ways. As a disciplined mentor, he trained over 20 graduate students as well as a number of postdoctoral research associates and visiting scientists that selected his laboratory for their sabbaticals. He was a prolific writer and published more than 250 scientific articles, book chapters, and patents over the course of his career. One of Russell's goals in life was to update Hungate's The Rumen and Its Microbes, which he did in part with his 2002 book Rumen Microbiology and Its Role in Ruminant Nutrition. Russell's scientific contributions to microbiology will live on through the work of others that he has influenced during his research career. He is survived by his son Aaron and by numerous friends and grateful colleagues.
USDA-ARS-National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research
US FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine
USDA-ARS-U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center