Image Credit: Edwin Remsberg
Tom Porter, professor in the Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, was named a Distinguished University Professor at the university’s annual convocation ceremony on September 13, 2023. The title is the highest academic honor bestowed by the University of Maryland and is a recognition not just of excellence, but of impact and significant contribution to the nominee’s field, knowledge, profession, and/or practice.
Porter is a world-renowned professor and researcher with a focus on molecular and cellular aspects of endocrinology in poultry. He has three main research areas: regulation of growth in broiler chickens, regulation of reproduction in turkey hens, and mitigation of heat stress in broiler chickens. While he considers himself a basic researcher, in the applied sense, his work is helping to increase global food security through enhanced production of poultry.
“It’s been estimated that we have to double poultry production by 2050. How are we going to double it, knowing that we can’t just build more farms?” said Porter. “Fundamental knowledge informs the poultry breeders who are using genomic selection in their programs to identify better growing, more efficient growing, faster growing birds. Some of those markers are based on my research.”
Porter has been a pioneer in many areas. He and his colleagues were responsible for sequencing and identifying half the genes in the chicken before the chicken genome was sequenced. He is known around the globe for his work on pituitary gland function in chickens, advancing understanding of poultry growth and reproduction. Because of his work, the world now knows more about the regulation of growth hormones during embryonic chicken development than in mice or any other mammalian model.
Porter has been funded for 32 consecutive years across all three thrust areas, gaining over $28 million in external awards. He’s also a very highly cited researcher with more than 3,800 references to his research. 93 of his manuscripts have been cited more than 10 different times. Throughout his career he has published 113 peer reviewed manuscripts, almost all of which include findings on the pituitary gland. At conferences, “people would excuse themselves from a conversation because they wanted to hear ‘Porter’s talk,’” says Walter Bottje, poultry science professor at the University of Arkansas.
Porter has been very active with the Poultry Science Association (PSA). He has served in multiple roles including vice president, president and editor in chief of its highly regarded journal, Poultry Science. He was named a fellow of PSA in 2016 because of his myriad scientific accomplishments, but also for his dedicated service.
Porter’s excellence extends beyond research, as evidenced by his dedication to and results through teaching and mentorship. Between postdocs and graduate students, 31 individuals have come through his lab and trained at that level. Of the 31, 9 of them are now university professors or operate their own research labs with USDA. At the undergraduate level, more than 40 undergraduates have come through his lab for training, some of which have stayed with him for multiple years. He also has served as a valued mentor for junior faculty in his department. “His willingness to help mentor and support junior faculty is something I have not witnessed in the three other departments I have been a part of in my career,” said former Chair and Professor Chad Stahl.
Porter always wanted to be a professor because he loved research. But after he saw the light go on in his students, he realized he really loved teaching. He also never wanted to work on the administrative side, but is now in his second stint as department chair and finds the work to be very rewarding.
My career started narrow but I fell in love with the other aspects as well,” said Porter. I love it all. It’s the best job in the world.”
This article was originally published in AGNR News.