Welton I. Taylor, Ph.D.

Welton I. Taylor, Ph.D.

For over 50 years, Welton I. Taylor, renowned clinical research microbiologist, academician, and inventor, has made outstanding contributions to the advancement of microbiology. He might well be the oldest living African-American microbiologist. Without a doubt, he is the living African American with the longest membership in ASM, having joined in 1947.

Taylor made outstanding contributions to ASM when it was unusual to see African-American participation. From 1966-1975, he served as chair of the committee to publish an ASM journal of clinical microbiology. The idea for the journal became a reality under Taylor's chairmanship, and he subsequently served on the journal's first board of editors from 1975-1983.

Born in 1919 in Birmingham, Ala., Taylor attended the segregated public schools of Chicago and in 1937 graduated from historic Dusable High School as valedictorian of his class. He entered the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and in 1941 earned a B.A. degree with a major in bacteriology and a minor in chemistry. It was his first bacteriology course at the University of Illinois that sparked his interest in microbiology. However, these were the war years, and as a loyal American, Taylor participated in the university's Advanced Reserve Officers Training Corps. He is cited in Dempsey J. Travis' 1995 book Views from the Back of the Bus during WWII and Beyond as the University of Illinois' first identifiable Negro in the Reserve Officers Training Corps. Immediately following graduation, he entered into active service as a second lieutenant. At the end of World War II, Taylor returned to the University of Illinois and enrolled in the graduate microbiology program. He received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in microbiology in 1947 and 1948, respectively.

Upon receiving his Ph.D., Taylor joined the faculty at the University of Illinois College of Medicine as an instructor. He left in 1954 as an assistant professor. He gained prominence through his research on the treatment of gas gangrene and tetanus—two infections that were prevalent during World War II. His discovery that both infections could be controlled by commonly used antibiotics changed the medical community's previous reliance on antitoxins to treat these diseases.

In 1954 an outbreak of salmonella poisoning in baby foods prompted food industry giant, Swift and Company, to turn to Taylor for assistance. He helped Swift locate and eradicate the sources of contaminants in their supplies and then collaborated with foreign scientists to establish standardized methods of food analysis.

In 1959, Taylor joined the staff of Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago as Microbiologist-in-Chief and immediately began to concentrate on the growing problem of patients who presented with nosocomial infections. By effectively addressing this problem, he became an expert on both nosocomial and iatrogenic infections. Taylor subsequently served on committees of more than a dozen Chicago-area hospitals and helped them to monitor and prevent the spread of such diseases in their facilities.

As Taylor's reputation grew, especially in the detection of foodborne illnesses, he soon came to the attention of World Health Organization members who requested that he be sent to work with them in Europe. This resulted in an National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease/National Institutes of Health award that allowed him to take a year's leave of absence from Chicago's Memorial Hospital and move with his family to Europe. From 1961-1962, he spent six months at the Central Public Health Labs in Colindale, London, England, and six months at the Institut Pasteur in Lille, France. It was this collaboration, and his many contributions to understanding the family Enterobacteriaceae, that led to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's naming of Enterobacter taylorae in honor of him and Joan Taylor of the Colindale laboratory.

Returning to the United States, he continued his work with foodborne illnesses, this time addressing the role of Shigella which was a significant health threat to infants and children. In so doing, he developed media that facilitated the isolation and detection of both Shigella and Salmonella.

Taylor developed a device for use in the identification of microorganisms which was adopted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and similar bodies in Canada and Western Europe as the approved method to certify foods as bacteria-free. This device also represented one of his four patents. With FDA approval of his techniques, he started a medical device manufacturing company, Micro-Palettes, Inc. Though lacking in resources and clearly no match for the advertising capabilities of major industries, it was in business from 1977-1988.

In his role of service to ASM, Taylor has convened many local and national sessions and organized many roundtables. In addition to the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, he has served on the editorial board of Applied Microbiology and on ASM's Subcommittee on Enterobacteriaceae from 1972-75. His other ASM committee involvements include the President's Fellowship Awards Committee, which he chaired from 1986-1987, and the Archives Committee. In 1974, Taylor was elected to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology. He most recently presented a retrospective symposium talk at the ASM General Meeting in 1999.

Taylor is an emeritus member of the American Board of Medical Microbiology; a diplomate of the Public Health and Medical Laboratory, Bacteriology (1968-1987); a member of the Board of Directors of the American Board of Bioanalysts (1973-1982); and has held faculty appointments at Northwestern University Medical School and several schools of medical technology in Illinois for a total of 39 years. In 1996, Taylor was awarded the Pasteur Award by the Illinois Society for Microbiology and the Liberal Arts and Sciences Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  The above paragraphs provide a mere glimpse of Welton Taylor as a Face of ASM. Indeed, Taylor is an outstanding microbiologist who serves ASM with distinction and who served his country with honor. Taylor has also been featured in the ASM News "Faces of ASM" series (ASM News 68 (1), January 2002) and was presented with the Tanner/Shaughnessy Merit Award from the Illinois Society for Microbiology (March 2007).