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David H. Baker to be honored for work in animal and nutritional science

Diana Yates, Life Sciences Editor

Professor David H. Baker
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Photo by Olan Mills
David H. Baker, professor emeritus of animal sciences and nutritional sciences.

Released 2/22/2007

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — This spring David H. Baker, professor emeritus of animal sciences and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, will receive the Council for Agricultural Science and Technology’s Charles A. Black Award. The award is given to an individual who “has demonstrated outstanding achievement in his or her area of expertise within the agricultural, environmental, or food science sectors.“

This is the latest in a long list of awards and honors Baker has received in his 40-year career at Illinois. He has received six major awards from the American Society of Animal Science and five from the Poultry Science Association. He has been elected a Fellow of these associations and of the American Society for Nutrition, which has also honored him with two awards. In 1987 he received the U.S. Department of Agriculture Distinguished Service Award in Research. In 2005 he was inducted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Baker has made significant contributions to research in amino acid metabolism, animal and human nutrition and toxicology. His work has influenced the development of diet formulas for pigs, mice, rats, chickens, cats and dogs. He is credited with being among those who discovered that the amino acid derivative, taurine, is an essential nutrient for felines. He found that cupric oxide, long used as a copper supplement in animal and human vitamin-mineral supplements, was not absorbed by the body, leading many supplement makers to switch to copper sulfate. And he was the first to find an antidote for iodine toxicity, a discovery that could aid those responding to terrorist attacks or nuclear accidents that expose people to radiation.

Baker’s primary research interest involves the nutritional role of sulfur compounds and the sulfur amino acids methionine and cysteine.

“Methionine is a critical amino acid in poultry diets, but I am interested in it also because of its role in human nutrition,” Baker said.

Baker discovered that the methionine analog, S-methylmethionine, can replace S-adenosylmethionine in choline biosynthesis. S-methylmethionine is found in corn, soybeans, cabbage, tomatoes, celery, spinach and garlic.

While small quantities of sulfur amino acids can be useful in treating nutritional deficiencies in poultry or other animals, Baker’s research has found that higher levels (addition of 3 grams per 100 grams diet) of L-cysteine to a typical corn and soybean meal diet can be deadly to chickens or rats. Such findings have implications for human health. Baker objects to the widespread availability of these and other nutritional supplements without a prescription.

“Professor Baker has devoted his career to understanding the myriad of factors that influence the nutrient needs of humans, birds, livestock and companion animals,” wrote the committee that selected him for the award. “He has published almost 600 peer-reviewed journal articles – a record that is not approached by anyone in the field today.”

Baker will receive the Charles A. Black Award on March 21 in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s note: To reach David H. Baker, call 217-333-0243; e-mail: