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Burke Judd came to The University of Texas as a post-doctoral fellow in 1954 and was appointed as instructor in 1956. He proceeded through the ranks and retired as a full professor in 1979. Thus he spent 25 years, the greater and most productive part of his scientific career, in Austin.

He was born in Kanal, Utah, in 1927 and graduated from High School in Fredonia, Arizona, in 1945. After spending two years in the Army, he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Utah, in 1950 and in 1951, respectively. He then went on to the California Institute of Technology from which he received his Ph.D. in 1954.

Burke started his research career at the California Institute of Technology under the auspices of E.B. Lewis who won a Nobel Prize in 1995. This was the defining time in his scientific life because there he began working on the white locus (an eye color locus) in Drosophila melanogaster (the “fruit fly”).  He continued work on that locus for the rest of his career, parlaying his vast knowledge into an extremely significant and important generalization: one could equate the locus with a single band (chromomere) in the giant chromosomes from the salivary glands of drosophila, which thus suggested these bands were essentially “genes.” Since these “genes” could be easily counted, the resulting initial number of them needed to make a higher organism was estimated at about 5,000. This number was in much contention at the time since estimates from other molecular biological methods (and perhaps human intuition) gave a much higher value. This conclusion (1 gene = 1 band), however, left a huge unanswered question since, in terms of DNA, the amount required for these “genes” was only a small fraction of the total DNA in the cell. The rest (perhaps up to 98%) was labeled “Junk DNA,” and its function remains under debate to this day.

In a sense, this idea represented one of the crowning achievements of the world famous genetics group at The University of Texas with such luminaries as T.S. Painter, J.T. Patterson, H.J. Muller, and W.S. Stone, whose work on evolutionary genetics was largely based on the use of these same bands on the giant chromosomes as markers for species identification and comparison. The importance of this work was recognized and applauded universally. Burke’s definition of these bands in terms of genes was a major contribution to molecular biology and was recognized as such by many of the giants in the field.

Burke was a quiet person but an excellent teacher. He taught a course in genetics for all of his years at UT, and along with R.P. Wagner, Bob Sanders, and R.H. Richardson wrote a textbook basically for use in that course. The course was a demanding one, required for a degree in zoology, and therefore taken by many future M.D.s. It was generally regarded as a major hurdle in their academic careers.

He left UT in 1979 to become chief of the Laboratories of Genetics at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle, North Carolina, and retired from that position in 1995. During that time period, he was also an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and also at Duke University until 2002.

In addition to academic aspects, Burke was on several national advisory panels dealing with genetics-related issues: Genetic Biology of the National Science Foundation; NIH Genetic Study Section; The Commission on Germ Plasm Resources; and chairman of the Human Genome Initiative Review Board, Department of Energy. He was an editor of Molecular and General Genetics and an associate editor of Genetics. He was also heavily involved with the Genetics Society of America, serving successively as secretary, vice president, and president (1980-81).

Behind his quiet and calm demeanor, Burke had strong views on most subjects, scientific and otherwise. His keen mind went to the heart of these topics, and his gifts for synthesis and communication allowed him to present his data and new ideas with clarity and vigor. His departure for North Carolina was a great loss to the genetics group in the now defunct zoology department.

Burke is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Barbara (Bobby); by their three sons, Sean, Evan, and Timothy; and their sons’ wives and children.


William Powers Jr., President
The University of Texas at Austin


Sue Alexander Greninger, Secretary
The General Faculty

This memoriam resolution was prepared by a special committee consisting of Professors Hugh S. Forrest (chair), H. Eldon Sutton, and Austen Riggs.

  Updated 2013 October 18
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