March 2, 1897–October 12, 1987
BY RAY D. OWEN
M. R. (“BOB”) IRWIN DEVOTED his scientific research life to two related areas. First, contrary to what he believed to be the prevailing opinion when he began, he maintained that genetic susceptibility or resistance of the host affects the processes of infection by a pathogen. Inventing the term “immunogenetics,” he became recognized as a pioneer in that vital field, a leader over many decades. Second, he reasoned that antibodies provide tools for defining antigens segregating as inherited variations within and among species. His assumed one gene-one antigen concept developed insight into evolutionary relationships difficult to assess in other ways. Working at first with pigeons and doves, he and his group extended their studies to domestic birds and animals, into areas of important agricultural concern. As a leader he achieved important goals for the University of Wisconsin and for science in the nation and the world.
Born in Artesian, South Dakota, three-year-old Bob Irwin moved in 1900 with his family to an Iowa farm near the town of Ireton. He attended a country school but transferred at sixth grade to the larger school in Ireton, where there were six in his graduating class. “My father,” he wrote, “died when I was 15 years old, and since each of the three children wished to attend college, I spent three years at work