Dr. Erik Mirkov, plant pathologist at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco, passed away May 24 in Denver, Colorado, after a brief battle with cancer. He was 58.
Mirkov is survived by his siblings Tony Mirkov and Maria Kobold, stepsonHouston Broussard, two grandchildren, several relatives and nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his wife, Daphna Kaye Oaks-Mirkov, and his parents, Ted and Eleanor Mirkov.
“On behalf of all his lab members, friends, colleagues and stakeholders who have worked and known Erik at the Texas A&M University System and beyond, we wish he rest in peace, and extend our heartfelt condolences to his family,” said Dr. Juan Landivar, resident director at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center at Weslaco. “The plant biology and pathology scientific community, and its stakeholders, has lost a leading scientific figure and innovator. Erik will be dearly missed in the years to come.”
Mirkov was born in Upland, California, and was an avid camper, hiker, surfer and globetrotter. He earned his bachelor’s degree in botany in 1981, a Master of Science degree in plant pathology in 1984 and a doctoral degree in plant pathology in 1988, all from the University of California, Riverside.
Mirkov carried out his post-doctoral research on plant viral vectors with Drs. Chris Lamb and Leona Fitzmaurice from 1988 to 1989 at The Salk Institute Biotechnology/Industrial Associates Inc., also known as SIBIA, and worked as a research scientist and project leader in SIBIA from 1989 to 1992.
He later worked with Dr. Maarten Chrispeels as a research biologist in the department of biology and Center for Molecular Genetics, University of California, San Diego. In 1994, he joined AgriLife center at Weslaco as an assistant professor in the department of plant pathology and microbiology. Since then, he was promoted to associate and full professor at Texas A&M.
Throughout his career, Mirkov served the scientific society, as an associate editor for Plant Disease, 2002-2003, and senior editor for Phytopathology (2004-2005) journals. He also held numerous positions in international organizations such as the assistant secretary for International Consortium for Sugarcane Biotechnology, and was a standing member of the Committee for Molecular Biology of the International Society of Sugar Cane Technologists and New Journal Committee of International Organization of Citrus Virologists.
Colleagues and other researchers described Mirkov as an esteemed professor and a world-renowned scientist who dedicated his career to plant biotechnology and virology research. At the time of passing, he was leading pioneering work in citrus biotechnology at AgriLife Research toward the goal of finding solution to the devastating citrus greening disease via genetic engineering. His work in citrus was widely covered in numerous trade and news media outlets, including The New York Times and National Geographic Channel.
“He also contributed significantly to sugarcane biotechnology, mainly towards improving sugarcane abiotic stress tolerance traits, as well as developing a platform for producing high value proteins and bioproducts using sugarcane,” said Dr. Ray Ming, professor and friend of Mirkov at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Mirkov’s research career resulted in over 60 publications and book chapters and garnered over 1,976 citations. He was also well known for his technological innovations and commercialization.
He received over 10 patents and had several patent applications pending. In recognition of his technology commercialization achievements, he was awarded six consecutive Texas A&M Vice Chancellor’s Awards in Technology Innovation from 2007-2012, as well as for research in 2006. He was also awarded the American Phytopathological Society Syngenta Award in 2002 for his outstanding contributions to plant pathology research.
A graveside service will be held June 5 at 10 a.m. at Bellevue Memorial Park at the Signorio plot in Ontario, California. A celebration of Mirkov’s life will be held at the AgriLife center in Weslaco at a later date to be determined in late June or early July. In lieu of flowers, the family asks donations be sent in Mirkov’s name to the Cancer Research Institute, www.cancerresearch.org.