Daniel Peterson was born in Biggar, Saskatchewan, Canada. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Chicago in 1942 with a major in Chemistry. Following graduation he worked on the Manhatton District project, then, in 1945, began graduate study at UC Berkeley, where he obtained a PhD in Nutrition in 1950. He joined the faculty of the Department of Poultry Husbandry at Berkeley in 1951, then moved to Davis in 1953, where he remained until his death.
Dr. Peterson's research on alfalfa as a feedstuff for chicks led him to find growth-depressing saponins in alfalfa, the effects of which could be overcome by cholesterol or plant sterols. This led to his discovery in 1956 that feeding plant sterols reduced blood cholesterol levels in both chicks and humans. Later research was concerned primarily with poultry meat flavor and tenderness, particularly the mechanisms by which they are affected by age, heredity, diet, exercise, and processing. He compared normal tissue composition with that of chickens affected by muscular dystrophy in attempts to understand the nature of this disease, as well as the properties of normal muscle tissues. Dan's publications included such varied topics as diet-influenced gout in various strains of chickens, the influences of diet on the fatty acid composition of egg lipids, and treatment of meat to improve its tenderness and flavor.
His teaching reflected his varied interests, including courses on poultry industries, muscles as food, birds and their eggs as food, principles of nutrition, food fads, concepts of vegetarianism, and seminars for incoming graduate students in Nutrition. Dan traveled widely throughout Europe and Asia and developed an appreciation of the problems of the individual, especially of foreign students. His classes were characterized by a close personal approach to the individual student. This relationship was never stronger than with graduate students. He was the most patient of listeners and created an atmosphere in his classes that was scientifically rigorous yet warmly human and caring.
Although trained in science, Dan was a lover of languages and the arts. He spoke German, French, and Danish, which he used during frequent visits with his close-knit family in his ancestral Denmark. He was an active artist in charcoal and pencil drawing, as well as several other media. He also had a keen enjoyment of theater, ballet, and classical music.
Perhaps nothing more characterized Dan's love of life than the attention he paid his small garden - always one of the most colorful in Davis in every season. It became a haven for many a student forum, seminar, or social occasion where students and faculty alike enjoyed Dan's keen sense of humor and holistic approach to life. He demonstrated his love of cuisine at an annual, traditional Danish Christmas Eve party attended by family, close friends, and students.