29 February 1927 - 18 March 2020
We have learned the sad news that Philippe Mérat passed away on March 18, 2020, in his 92nd year, and offer our condolences to his family.
Philippe Mérat was a pioneer in poultry genetics at INRA and around the worlde. He was the director of the Factorial Genetics laboratory at the Jouy-en-Josas Research Centre, from 1976 to 1991. He has been a member of the International Poultry Hall of Fame of the World Poultry Science Association since 1988, at the beginning of this distinction. Philippe was one of the founders of the Vedette breeder hen, the first innovation in animal genetics patented by INRA in 1976. His insatiable scientific curiosity first led him to study the genetic determinism of so-called 'visible' phenotypes, such as dwarfism, the 'naked neck' gene, curly plumage, blue shell, etc. He relied mainly on experimentation to analyse the effects associated with these phenotypes on performances of economic interest, such as the number of eggs or feed efficiency of laying hens. With André Bordas, he initiated selection on residual feed consumption, which is still a highly studied trait on several farmed species. As the limits of the 'visible' evolved, he became interested in blood protein or egg white polymorphisms and supported the entry of factorial genetics into the molecular era, with the first 'RFLPs'. Long before climate change research, he was interested in heat adaptation, and had a passion for developing alternatives to industrial breeding for developing countries. In particular, he launched a collaboration with Egypt that led to the completion of three PhD theses and the importation, in 1978, of a population of the Fayoumi breed, a small hen remarkable in many ways, notably for its resistance to diseases. It is still today a precious biological resource maintained at the INRAE Pôle d'Expérimentation Avicole de Nouzilly. In 1989, he organised a European symposium in Jouy-en-Josas on genotype x environment interactions, which led to the publication of a book which is still useful and relevant today. He had already begun to study the effect of heat stress of the dam on the growth of its chicks before the term ‘epigenetics’ was coined. At that time, tools to explore the genome were lacking, but Philippe had already identified the issues for the future.
On a personal level, Philippe was very kind and always gave unfailing support to young researchers who joined his laboratory. He was very shy, he wrote much more easily than he expressed himself in public, with more than 150 articles and papers to his credit. However, the visit of the TV Collaro Show journalists who came to interview him on the blue egg has remained in the memories of the lab. Another highlight was the visit of Sir Carefoot, an English entrepreneur with a passion for the diversity of chicken breeds, who memorably took Philippe in his Jaguar car to visit the La Minière experimental farm.
A great and discreet gentleman has left us.