Remembering the gentleman scientist, Donald Kasarda

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Donald D Kasarda, PhD. described himself as “a retired gluten protein chemist who maintains a connection with my old research center (WRRC, ARS, USDA) as a collaborator.”* My hope is that many of you recognize his name and that some of you had the honor of conversing with him either in person, over the phone, or via email. Dr. Kasarda gave so much to this community through his published research, his willingness to answer questions from scientists and lay people alike, and (a favorite of mine) the grain taxonomic charts he put together to help folks in the celiac disease community understand what they could eat.  We owe him such a profound debt of gratitude.

Dr. Kasarda was the most generous and humble individual in the gluten-free world that I have had the honor to know. Reading back over our emails, we “chatted” on so many issues related to gluten. He was incredibly generous with his knowledge and time, and his actions and words provided lessons through example on how life should be lived in the scientific realm. Here are a few words (and lessons) from Dr. Kasarda:

“If you would like to credit me…” I first chatted with Dr. Kasarda in the late 1990s when I tracked him down as the creator of a grain taxonomic chart that had been published without attribution in a newsletter.  Long story short, I ended up combining two of Dr. Kasarda’s charts for publication and I was amazed when he didn’t assume that the chart would be attributed to him. Of course it would have been wrong not to cite him but he seemed to be of the mindset that what was most important was to get the information out to the folks who needed to see it. The taxonomic charts he put together and explained to the celiac disease community are the reason we came to universally accept that the pseudocereals amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa as well as the grains millet, teff, sorghum, etc. could be included in a gluten-free diet.

“A personal request from one scientist to another to read over a manuscript should always be honored except when there are exceptional time pressures.” Over the years, Dr. Kasarda reviewed some of my manuscripts prior to them being submitted to journals for possible publication. He never once declined. My work was so much better because he took the time to be a mentor.

“I hope you will not be embarrassed to ask me any question… As individuals, we cannot know everything.” Dr. Kasarda also never once declined to answer a question (but he was always quick to admit when he didn’t know the answer) and I asked him so many questions. At times, some of my questions seemed silly (to me) but when I pointed this out he responded by sharing an anecdote about his asking questions.

“You are pretty important.” Dr. Kasarda was quick to offer praise and his words meant more than I can ever express. He referred to me as a fellow scientist and also reached out to me with questions and to discuss various topics. I point this out only because his respect meant a lot to my then 30-something-year-old self.

“I’m not sure I would become a scientist as the system stands today, too competitive, too cut-throat.” Thank goodness he did become a scientist, as I can’t imagine the gluten-free world today without the influence of Dr. Kasarda. However, his sentiment rings true, including (especially?) in the celiac disease community. My hope is that we honor Dr. Kasarda with more collaboration, a willingness to help, and a greater respect for what folks with different areas of expertise bring to the table.

In one of our last email exchanges, Dr. Kasarda wrote that his inclination was more towards a “gentleman scientist.” This is exactly who he was.

*If you would like to read some of Dr. Kasarda’s work see https://usda-ars.academia.edu/DKasarda

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