David Popham, professor of biological sciences at Virginia Tech, has been elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology (ASM).

Also an affiliate faculty member of the Fralin Life Science Institute, Popham researches structure, synthesis, and hydrolysis of the mesh-like wall components of bacterial vegetative cells and endospores. His past studies focused on the model gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis and the pathogens Bacillus anthracis — the anthrax agent — and Clostridium perfringens — a dangerous human and animal bacterium.  

Popham has used molecular genetic techniques to identify and manipulate the genes that encode enzymes that polymerize and hydrolyze the peptidoglycan cell wall and biochemical methods to characterize structural changes in the cell wall.

“Not only is Dr. Popham internationally known for his research contributions in the field of medical microbiology, but he has made his mark while involving both undergraduate and graduate students in creative, leading-edge research in his laboratory,” said Brenda Winkel, head of the Department of Biological Sciences, part of the College of Science. “He joins a very elite group of scientists who have been elected fellows of the ASM. The department is delighted at this very significant recognition of Dr. Popham’s work by his professional peers.”

Popham is one of 78 Fellows inducted in 2016, joining 2,400 total members. Honorees are elected annually through a highly selective, peer-review process based on their records of scientific achievement and original contributions that have advanced microbiology, according to the organization.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1983 and his doctoral degree in microbiology from University of California Davis in 1989.  He worked in two post-doctoral positions, at the Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique in Paris from 1989 to 1991 and the University of Connecticut Health Center from 1991 to 1996. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1996.

Fellows “represent all subspecialties of microbiology, including basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry, and government service,” according to the academy’s website. Fellows from this year’s induction come from around the world, including Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The American Academy of Microbiology is the honorific leadership group of the American Society for Microbiology.  The academy’s mission, according to its website, is “to recognize scientific excellence, as well as foster knowledge and understanding in the microbiological sciences.”

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

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