July 20, 2007

VUMC toxicology pioneer Wilson remembered

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Benjamin Wilson, Ph.D.

VUMC toxicology pioneer Wilson remembered

Benjamin Wilson, Ph.D., professor emeritus of Biochemistry and an internationally recognized expert in the toxicology of natural products, died Wednesday, July 4. He was 84.

Born in Pennsboro, W.Va., Dr. Wilson earned both his undergraduate and master's degrees at West Virginia University. He served 10 years as chief of the Microbiology Branch in the U.S. Army Chemical Corps' Biological Warfare Laboratories in Fort Detrick, Md., during which time he earned his doctorate in Medical Sciences from George Washington University (1955).

Dr. Wilson came to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in 1963, after serving as associate professor at David Lipscomb College. His research focused on naturally occurring toxic compounds from bacteria, fungi and plants. He discovered a number of toxic compounds in food consumed by humans, pets and farm animals — including rubratoxin, which can contaminate cereal grains, and 4-ipomeanol from diseased sweet potatoes.

Dr. Wilson was one of the six original faculty members in the Center in Molecular Toxicology, an interdepartmental system established in 1967 that provides an environment for research efforts in molecular toxicology by Center investigators and affiliated faculty in the departments of Biochemistry, Biological Sciences, Chemistry, Medicine, Pathology, Pediatrics and Pharmacology.

“He was an interesting man, serious yet always helpful, and focused on the research questions he was interested in,” said F. Peter Guengerich, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry and current director of the Center in Molecular Toxicology. “He was probably one of the best in the world in his field.”

Dr. Wilson was a member of the New York Academy of Sciences, Society of Toxicology, American Society for Microbiology and the Society of the Sigma Xi. He served on the Editorial Board for the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology and as an editorial reviewer for other scientific journals. His numerous scientific publications appeared in several domestic and foreign journals including Nature and Science.

Dr. Wilson is survived by wife, Nancy Ligon Wilson; daughters, Suzanne Hadley, M.D., Barbara J. Bryant and Rebecca E. Wilson; son, James C. Wilson, M.D.; and granddaughters, Sanna Bryant and Olivia Ann Wilson.