RETZEL ERNEST F. May 11, 1949 - November 8, 2012. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Ernie had a distinguished career that spanned several academic disciplines. He graduated from the invitation-only Science and Arts Program at Detroit's Cass Technical High School in 1967, and did his undergraduate work in microbiology and French literature at Michigan State University in the then experimental Justin Morrill College. He continued his graduate studies in viral pathogenesis with his Ph.D. microbiology work at the University of Minnesota. In the mid 1990s, combining his expertise in molecular biology with a long-standing interest in computing technologies, he established at the University of Minnesota one of the first groups working specifically in bioinformatics. The goals of this group paralleled ongoing work early in the Human Genome Project and involved genomic sequencing, database technologies, and high performance computing for molecular research in plants. This group, the Computational Biology Centers at the University of Minnesota, later developed into the Center for Computational Genomics and Bioinformatics, a campus-wide center that worked to merge state of the art information technologies, biological curation, supercomputing, and computer science into an effective research partner for the broader agricultural research community. Among the thrusts of the Center and Retzel's laboratory were the development of new algorithms to work with the new data types appearing in molecular biological research, generating functional annotations of some of the first plant genomic sequences, and improving software for exploration and analysis of the exponentially increasing data sets that began to appear. In this role as a leader of new ideas, Retzel developed - what was novel at the time - methods for pairing computer science students with biological students to the advantage of each other's strengths, and simultaneously pairing their advisors for similar cross-disciplinary training. In addition, he sought to bring pairs of individuals from under-represented groups together. The advantage of this peer - peer mentoring provided a stronger mutual base for exploring new realms of molecular biology for all the individuals involved. This method gave several students an opportunity to become great researchers on their own. While most of his career was at the University of Minnesota, he moved to Santa Fe in 2007 to accept a position as the Program Leader in Genomics and Bioinformatics at the National Center for Genome Resources. This dynamic environment provided him the opportunity to work with state-of-the-art high throughput sequencing instrumentation, agricultural research scientists worldwide, and extraordinary bioinformatics colleagues, including Andrew Farmer and John Crow and other NCGR staff support. Ernie was involved in several long-term projects and the development of many community databases. His initial work in animal pathogenesis evolved to plant bioinformatics and plant developmental science. Among others, his plant databases were created for the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, legumes, Medicago truncatula, and pine. As part of his later, broader agricultural program, he established important results, research data, and databases in areas as diverse as the cattle tick genome, loggerhead sea turtles, PRRSV, Johne's disease, and the bovine Y chromosome. Much of the software Retzel initiated focused on novel visual representations of data and experimental results, specifically integrating different information types, with the intent of providing more complete and holistic views of intrinsically complex data. His academic work is supported by more than 100 peer-reviewed publications in the biological, bioinformatics, and computer science literature. Ernie passed away peacefully at home with his family present. Burial near his parents and family took place November 17, 2012 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan. His parents, Ernest and Mary Retzel, and his sister, Mary Stockham precede him in death. Ernie is survived by his loving wife, Catherine Clark, and their many cats. In addition, he is survived by his sister, Roberta Kromm (Dave) and their children and grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of his sister, Mary Stockham (Jim).
From The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press
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