Friday, April 8, 2022

Member spotlight: Tom McKeon

Tom McKeon

Tom McKeon is the current AOCS Biotechnology (BIO) Division Member Liaison. He has retired after 38 years of service with the United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) in Albany, CA.

What was your role at the USDA ARS?

I started at the USDA after post-doctoral research with Paul Stumpf on fatty acid desaturation and a brief stint as a visiting scientist with Shang-Fa Yang on ethylene in plant development. My initial research with ARS was related to post-harvest biochemistry but I took over the lipids project when Glenn Fuller (longtime AOCS member) retired. From then, I worked with my colleagues on oil biosynthesis in castor seed and approaches to eliminate ricin as a byproduct of castor oil production.

What excited you about your work?

I enjoyed the fact that our research was relevant to some national priorities, and as my career came to an end, I was involved in a multi-agency task force dealing with issues related to the castor plant and ricin.

How long have you been an AOCS member, and what is your role for the BIO Division?

I've been a member of AOCS for 25 years and my current role is Member Liaison for the BIO Division. This is a new role developed by AOCS with a goal of keeping Division members involved. As an example, I set up Midweek Mixers to interact with Division members. I look forward to seeing BIO members at the 2022 AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo in May.

How has AOCS helped during your career?

Tom McKeon in the lab.
Tom preparing castor seeds for analysis, several years ahead of the current pandemic mask wearing.

The AOCS Annual Meeting & Expo provides a forum to present research and interact with colleagues. This activity has given me the opportunity to collaborate with other researchers and to speak at international conferences where I have met other researchers and developed collaborative programs. Moreover, I don't think I left an annual meeting without hearing at least a couple of presentations that had promising research approaches or applications that could be of value to our research either through collaboration or discussion with the presenter.

What do you like to do outside of work/AOCS?

Now that I am retired, a typical day is sleeping late, getting out for a long walk or working in the garden and keeping up with family and friends. I retired with a goal of traveling, though the pandemic made short work of that for a while. In the meantime, I've expanded my vegetable garden from about 30 square feet to 300 square feet and keep it going in the winter.

Do you have any words of wisdom for other AOCS members?

I've only touched on the value of being an AOCS and BIO member. AOCS journals for research publications, books, the Lipid Library are features of AOCS available to members. But if I could pick out one feature, it's networking with colleagues who are working in related and unrelated areas.

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