Dr. Frederick Joseph de Serres Jr., co-founder of the Environmental Mutagen Society, died Sunday, December 21st at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He was the third President of the Society, serving from 1974 to 1976. He received the EMS/EMGS Award in 1979 in recognition of his outstanding research contributions in the area of environmental mutagenesis.
Jack B. Bishop, PhD, said of Dr. de Serres, “our field of environmental mutagenesis has lost another of its GIANTS. Fred's contributions have been legendary. He will be greatly missed.”
Dr. de Serres was one of the major movers of the Society into the "Mutation causes Cancer" field which stimulated a major growth spurt for the Society during the late '70-early '80's. He developed an Ad-3 mutation test in Neurospora that was one of the in-vitro tests used in detection of environmental mutagens. During the late 1970’s and the 1980’s he organized, secured funding for, and oversaw the conduct of three large international collaborative studies involving dozens of leading laboratories from around the world. These studies were conducted to evaluate the performance of the many short term in vitro and in vivo genetic toxicity tests proposed to identify the carcinogenic potential of environmental chemicals.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology/Chemistry from Tufts University in 1951. He completed a pre-doctoral fellowship at the National Cancer Institute, and then his Masters and PhD degrees in Genetics/Botany from Yale University in 1953 and 1955 respectively. Fred moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1955 as a post-doctoral research associate in the Biology Division at Oak Ridge National Laboratories (ORNL) and remained at Oak Ridge as a research scientist for the next 15 years. In 1972, Dr. de Serres was offered a position as Laboratory Chief of Environmental Mutagenesis in the intramural research program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. He was involved in several international collaborative scientific efforts, including the US-USSR Environmental Protection Agreement and the US-Japan Cooperative Medical Sciences program.
In 1976, he received the NIH Director's Award, the highest award given by the National Institutes of Health, based on his work in developing an environmental mutagenesis program to study the potential mutant effects of agents found in the environment. He was cited for his "leadership and guidance" in developing cooperative efforts which have "broadened the scope and influence of mutagenic testing and research worldwide". He then became the associate director for genetics at NIEHS for the next ten years. In 1986 he became the Director of the Center for Life Sciences and Toxicology at Research Triangle Institute in which he oversaw programs involving mammalian mutagenesis, teratology, reproductive toxicology, and in vitro toxicology. In his later years, after his own diagnosis of a genetic disease, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, he became very active in the Alpha-1 Foundation and began performing epidemiologic research to describe the prevalence of this disorder worldwide. He continued to write peer reviewed scientific papers into his early 80's, authoring almost 500 contributions to the scientific literature.
Dr. de Serres was a man of many interests and talents. He loved trying new foods on his international travels and bringing these experiences home to his family. He and his wife, Christine, shared a love of cooking and botany. They were always creating and executing the next great meal, and were able to express their love of botany through constant gardening and landscaping of their homes in Oak Ridge and Chapel Hill. He loved spending time with his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
He is survived by his son Mark de Serres and wife Suzan Council de Serres of Chapel Hill; son Paul C. de Serres and fiancée René Suitt of Durham; son David de Serres of Raleigh; daughter-in-law Barbara Egan de Serres of Raleigh; daughter Dr. Lianne de Serres McKhann and husband Dr. Guy McKhann of Bronxville, New York, 9 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. He is pre-deceased by his son, Jonathan F. de Serres, who died in 1996, and his wife Christine, who died in 2008.