Renowned plant geneticist Dr. Lila Vodkin has died

Lila Vodkin
Dr. Lila Vodkin

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Professor Emerita Lila Ann Vodkin, a pioneering figure in plant genetics and the former Charles Adlai Ewing Chair of Soybean Molecular Biology in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) died on June 20, 2024, at the age of 73.

Dr. Vodkin’s impactful career began with her education in South Carolina, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from the University of South Carolina in 1972, followed by a master’s degree in biology in 1975. She completed her doctorate in genetics at North Carolina State University in 1978.

From 1978 to 1987, Dr. Vodkin served as a research geneticist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, part of the USDA's Agricultural Research Service. In 1987, she joined the U. of I. faculty as an associate professor of crop molecular biology and genetics in the Department of Agronomy, now the Department of Crop Sciences. She was promoted to professor in 1995, becoming the first woman to achieve the rank of full professor in the department. In 2004, she was awarded the Charles Adlai Ewing Endowed Chair in Soybean Molecular Biology, a position she held until her retirement in 2014.

Dr. Vodkin was a world-renowned expert in the genetics of soybeans. Her groundbreaking research focused on gene isolation, regulation, and transfer in higher plants. She developed public genomic resources for soybeans and collaborated extensively with nanotechnologists to enhance gene detection methods. Her work has had a profound impact on the improvement of economically important traits in soybeans. In 2022, she was presented with the William J. Morse Career Achievement award by the Soybean Genomics Executive Committee.

Throughout her career, Dr. Vodkin published over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and secured more than $10 million in research funding. She was a dedicated mentor, supervising 11 doctoral students and 10 master’s students, many of whom went on to prominent careers in academia and industry. She also played a pivotal role in advising and assisting younger faculty members in achieving tenure and promotion.

“Lila's contributions at the university were invaluable, and I feel privileged to have worked alongside her,” ACES Dean Germán Bollero said. “Her dedication, passion, and brilliance made a lasting impact on all of us who had the honor of knowing her. She was not only a remarkable colleague but also a wonderful person whose warmth and kindness touched many lives.”

Per her wishes, no formal funeral services are planned.