Mary Elizabeth Case was a founding member of the department of genetics at the University of Georgia in 1980. She remained an active participant in the department after her retirement as Professor Emerita.
Case was born on December 10, 1925, in Crawfordville, Indiana. She received her B.A. in Biology from Maryville College in Tennessee and an M.A. in Botany from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She earned her doctorate from Yale University in 1957. She remained at Yale as a lecturer before moving to UGA in 1972 as an associate professor of zoology. Case was promoted to professor of genetics in 1985.
“Mary is a pioneer in genetics in many ways. She developed the first DNA transformation system for filamentous fungi, which enabled all molecular genetics studies of filamentous fungi,” said Jonathan Arnold, professor in the genetics department. “She consistently grew with genetics and was instrumental in the development of new genomics approaches in filamentous fungi that continue to inspire generations of young scientists.”
“Mary was a special person, so it is hard to describe her impact in just a few words. She was truly a unique individual and wonderful colleague,” said Sidney Kushner, distinguished research professor and former head of the genetics department. “She was not overly extroverted but interacted easily with everyone in the department. She taught an introductory genetics laboratory that the undergraduates praised highly. I have the fondest memories of my interactions with her.”
Case made contributions to the understanding of cellular metabolism and focused most of her career on quinic acid metabolism in Neurospora crassa, an easy to grow red bread mold that facilitates the study of recessive genetic traits.
With the introduction of genomics and the human genome project in 1989, Case continued to lead genomics approaches to metabolism and the clock by helping to spearhead the Neurospora genome project.
Case published over 45 articles throughout her career. She continued to contribute to the world of genetics long after her retirement with her most recent paper being published in 2016.
Case was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Genetics Society of America, and the American Society of Microbiology. The Mary E. Case Award for Excellence in Teaching was established in 2014 to honor her contributions to the department of genetics.
“Mary has been a model for faculty and students during all of these years while she was at UGA. She will be greatly missed,” said Wyatt Anderson, Alumni Foundation Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the genetics department and former dean of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.
In addition to her academic contributions, Case was a vital, long-standing member of the Oconee Rivers Audubon Society. The Society created the Care and Service to the Environment (CASE) award in her honor. Case was also an avid traveler having visited all 50 states and all the continents.
Case was preceded in death by her parents Dr. Ralph T. and Leila Case as well as her sister, Ruth, and Ruth's husband, William Kelley. She is survived by one niece; two nephews; as well as great-nieces and nephews; and great-great nieces and nephews.