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National Academy of Sciences Elects Tilahun Yilma among New Members

April 21, 2004

UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is pleased to announce the election of Tilahun Yilma, professor and director of the International Laboratory of Molecular Biology for Tropical Diseases to the National Academy of Sciences. Yilma joins the Animal, Nutritional, and Applied Microbial Sciences group.

Yilma was recently informed that the indirect ELISA kit for rinderpest, developed in collaboration with the Institut Senegalais de Recherches Agricoles, has been approved for use by the OIE, the World Organization for Animal Health. The improved diagnostics and vaccines from his laboratory will make inroads into the disease environment of affected developing nations, increasing livestock output and the general well-being of populations.

The following excerpt from the
UC Davis News Service press release provides more information:

April 20, 2004


A neuroscientist and a veterinary virologist at the University of California, Davis, were elected today to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest honors accorded to scientists and engineers in the United States.

Edward G. "Ted" Jones, a professor of psychiatry and director of the Center for Neuroscience, and Tilahun Yilma, a professor of virology and director of the International Laboratory of Molecular Biology for Tropical Disease Agents, are among 72 new U.S. members and 18 foreign associates chosen this year by the academy.

Overall, 15 new members were elected from the University of California, including four each from Berkeley and San Francisco, two each from Davis and San Diego, and one each from Irvine, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Additionally, one member was elected from the UC-administered Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

"Membership in the National Academy of Sciences is arguably the highest and most prestigious honor that the country gives to a researcher," said Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef. "This recognition speaks to the quality of Professor Jones' and Professor Yilma's scholarly work. We couldn't be prouder of their accomplishments."

The researchers were notified of their honors with 6 a.m. calls from colleagues at the academy. Jones was away from campus, and for Yilma the day will be business-as-usual as he prepares to head to Washington, D.C., Wednesday for a National Institutes of Health meeting of smallpox vaccine researchers.

"But that's a great way to celebrate -- to do the science," Yilma said.

Tilahun Yilma, 60, was born in Ethiopia. He earned his bachelor's degree in veterinary science in 1968 and a doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1970, both from UC Davis. He then returned to Ethiopia and spent two years as a veterinarian vaccinating nomadic cattle herds against rinderpest, a deadly viral disease affecting cattle and wildlife.

In 1977, he earned a doctoral degree in microbiology and joined the UC Davis faculty as an assistant professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine. In that position and as a research associate for New York State College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University, he worked for three years at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Plum Island Animal Disease Center in New York. He then served five years as a faculty member at Washington State University, returning to UC Davis in 1986.

One of Yilma's landmark achievements has been development in 1986 of a genetically engineered vaccine for rinderpest. The vaccine was approved in 1997 for widespread use throughout Africa. It was the first genetically engineered vaccine to be released by a U.S.-funded researcher in a foreign country. Yilma went on to develop rinderpest diagnostic kits and organize training programs in order to make the kits available to African scientists. His current research is aimed at developing an AIDS vaccine and an improved smallpox vaccine.

In addition to his research, he has devoted extensive efforts to securing funding for biotechnology laboratories in developing nations and has maintained an active voice in Ethiopian politics.

Over the years, his accomplishments have been recognized with numerous professional and campus awards including the Smith Kline Beecham Award for Excellence in Research in 1988, the Ciba-Geigy Award for Research in Animal Science in 1989, the UC Davis Distinguished Public Service Award in 1994 and the UC Davis Faculty Research Lecturer Award in 2002.

Media contact(s):

* Tilahun Yilma, School of Veterinary Medicine, (530) 752-8306, (April 21-26, he can be reached at (530) 219-0103 or at the Bethesda Hyatt at (301) 657-1234)

* Pat Bailey, UC Davis News Service, (530) 752-9843,
Full press release

* April 20 press release from the National Academy of Sciences