The Microbiology Society (formally known as the Society for Microbiology) has had a number of prominent and distinguished presidents in its history.
Sir Alexander Fleming
Founder and first President 1945-1947 (b.1881-d.1955)
The Microbiology Society was formally inaugurated on 16 February 1945, at a meeting of Original Members in London. Sir Alexander Fleming (1881-1955) was elected as the first President. The Society had its origins in the (then) Society of Agricultural Bacteriologists: a number of members of that society had wished to see a broadening of its interests and scope beyond agriculture, to embrace virology, medical and agricultural bacteriology, protozoology and mycology. The idea was to bring members from different backgrounds together to gain the benefits of interdisciplinary discussion and learning from each other. This aim of the founders is still, after more than half a century, central to the ethos of the Microbiology Society. It underlies the growth of the Society, from 241 Original Members, to its present position as the largest microbiological learned society in Europe.
Fleming was born on 6 August 1881 at Lochfield, near Darvel, Ayrshire, Scotland. Following his school education he worked in a shipping office for 4 years, enrolling at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in Paddington in 1903 on the suggestion of his elder brother Tom. He qualified with distinction in 1906. Fleming was asked to join the research department at St Mary's where he became Assistant Bacteriologist to Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy and immunology. He gained a BSc with Gold Medal in 1908 and became a Lecturer at St Mary's until 1914.
In 1909, he developed a medium for isolating the ‘acne bacillus’ which led to the successful treatment of cases with vaccines. Shortly after, he began the work on the new drug Salvarsan for the treatment of syphilis. This marked the beginning of chemotherapy and Fleming’s lifelong interest in the investigation of chemical antiseptics in the treatment of infection.
Fleming served throughout World War I as a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Following World War I, he actively searched for antibacterial agents, having witnessed the deaths of many soldiers from sepsis resulting from infected wounds and, in 1921, he discovered lysozyme, which he always considered more important than the discovery of penicillin. He was elected Professor of Bacteriology of the University of London in 1928.
By 1927, Fleming was investigating the properties of staphylococci. On 3 September 1928, Fleming returned to his laboratory having spent August on holiday with his family. Before leaving, he had stacked all his cultures of staphylococci on a bench in a corner of his laboratory. On returning, Fleming noticed that one culture was contaminated with a fungus, and that the colonies of staphylococci that had immediately surrounded it had been destroyed, whereas other colonies farther away were normal. Fleming grew the mould in a pure culture and found that it produced a substance that killed a number of disease-causing bacteria. He identified the mould as being from the Penicillium genus, and, after some months of calling it ‘mould juice’, named the substance it released penicillin on 7 March 1929. He investigated its positive antibacterial effect on many organisms, and noticed that it affected bacteria such as staphylococci and many other Gram-positive bacteria.
Fleming was modest about his part in the development of penicillin, describing his fame as the ‘Fleming Myth’ and he praised Florey and Chain for transforming the laboratory curiosity into a practical drug. Fleming's accidental discovery and isolation of penicillin in September 1928 marks the start of modern antibiotics. He also discovered very early that bacteria developed resistance whenever too little penicillin was used or when it was used for too short a period. For this reason Fleming cautioned about the use of penicillin in his many speeches around the world, warning people not to use the antibiotic unless there was a properly diagnosed reason, and if used, to ensure the proper dosage was taken and for the proper length of time for the antibiotic course.
By the late 1940s, he increasingly spent much time away from the bench, delivering lectures and receiving numerous honours, including the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1945 and a knighthood. Ever eager to try anything new, he used phase-contrast microscopy to study Proteus vulgaris and produced evidence to support the traditional theory of flagella being regarded as the organs of motility in bacteria.
His first wife, Sarah, died in 1949. Their only child, Robert Fleming, became a doctor. In 1953, he married his second wife Amalia, a Greek colleague at St Mary's. Fleming had a heart attack and died at his home in London in 1955. He was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Marjory Stephenson (1885-1948) took an active part in founding the Microbiology Society, attending numerous preparatory committee meetings between November 1943 and February 1945. She served on the Committee of the Society from its foundation and was unanimously elected as the Society’s second President in September 1947.
Marjory Stephenson was born on 24 January 1885 at Burwell, 12 miles from Cambridge. After graduating from Newnham College, Cambridge, she had hoped to complete a medical course but found it necessary to study Domestic Science at the Gloucestershire Training College instead, and she taught for a time there and at King’s College of Household Science, London.
Her career as a biochemist started at University College London, working with R. H. A. Plimmer. There she studied the lactase of intestinal mucosa and showed that this enzyme was inhibited by glucose but not by galactose. She turned next to the synthesis of esters of palmitic acid and then worked on metabolism in experimental diabetes. During World War I, she served with the Red Cross in France and at Salonika. After the war she returned to Cambridge and worked in the department of F.G. Hopkins on fat-soluble vitamins. Hopkins in his wisdom encouraged her to leave the fields of animal metabolism and vitamins and to initiate a comprehensive study of the biochemical activities of bacteria. Her new line of work was begun at a most exciting time, and the Cambridge laboratory was turning to the study of intracellular enzymes with particular emphasis on oxidation mechanisms. This background had a profound and lasting effect on Marjory’s approach to bacterial metabolism, a field to which she contributed greatly.
She analysed the steps in the development of research in the field of bacterial metabolism, and pointed out that research took place at a series of levels. At the first level the worker was concerned with mixed cultures; at the second with pure cultures growing in complex media; at the third with pure cultures growing in chemically-defined media; at the fourth with washed cell suspensions from pure cultures; and finally at the fifth level with cell-free enzyme preparations. No one level was, by itself, adequate, and for an understanding of bacteria as they are found in nature, research must occur at all levels. Her tools were washed cell suspensions and, where possible, cell-free extracts. She was not particularly interested in complex reactions until her last years and in general she attempted to study single enzymes. Her approach was simple: to demonstrate the reaction with washed cell suspensions; to study the kinetics of the system and the factors controlling the formation of the enzyme; and finally, in order to learn more about the mechanism, to try to prepare an active cell-free extract. This was the method developed by her and now used wherever bacterial metabolism is studied. The monograph, Bacterial Metabolism (1930, 1939, 1949), enabled her to reach a wider public, and in this she was aided by a lucid and forceful style.
She was widely-travelled and widely-read and it would have been difficult to find a conversational theme that would not have interested her. Gardening always interested her and gave her intense satisfaction. She believed strongly in its psychotherapeutic value and attributed the relatively low crime and suicide rates in Britain to our national preoccupation with gardening. She often suggested that if those scientists whose behaviour did not come up to her standards would only undertake the care of a garden, they would be much improved!
J. Walter McLeod
Walter McLeod (1887-1978) was born in Dumbarton, near Glasgow, on 2 January 1887. In 1898, the family moved to Switzerland, where for two years Walter attended the College Cantonal in Lausanne. In 1900, he returned to Britain, being a pupil at Mill Hill School, London. In 1903, aged only 16, he entered the University of Glasgow as a medical student, graduating MB ChB with commendation in 1908. Walter was appointed Coats Scholar, and later Carnegie Scholar, in the Department of Pathology, where he worked under Carl H. Browning on bacterial haemolysins. During this period he went to India as ship’s surgeon. In 1912, he left Scotland to become Assistant Lecturer in Pathology at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School where he continued his research on bacterial haemolysins and also studied the culture of spirochaetes.
On the outbreak of World War I, he joined the Royal Army Medical Corp as temporary lieutenant, going to France in 1915. He was mentioned in despatches four times, being awarded the military OBE, and worked equally hard at original research on trench fever, trench nephritis, bacillary dysentery and the bacteriology of epidemic influenza. He was invalided out of the army in June 1919 and was then appointed as the First Lecturer in Bacteriology in Matthew J. Stewart’s Department of Pathology in the University of Leeds, thus commencing an association of 33 years with the School of Medicine.
Although trained as a medical bacteriologist, and whilst retaining his interest in that field throughout his long life, Walter was equally concerned to promote research in the more purely scientific aspects of the subject as shown, for example, by the establishment of courses in the Faculty of Science leading to an honours degree in Bacteriology.
From 1920, he worked with Pneumococcus, ultimately demonstrating the formation of peroxide by that organism, and in the succeeding decade he studied bacterial respiration and oxidation-reduction phenomena, putting forward an interesting theory of anaerobiosis. Together with his colleague John Gordon, they discovered the oxidase reaction for the recognition of gonococcal colonies in mixed culture, now widely used in diagnostic laboratories. A diphtheria epidemic in Leeds gave Walter a great opportunity to combine his clinical interests with new diagnostic laboratory methods, of which he took full advantage, culminating in 1931 with the recognition of three types of Corynebacterium diphtheriae - gravis, intermedius and mitis - which he correlated with clinical severity.
His fairness, equanimity and understanding won for him the greatest respect from all. Walter received many academic honours throughout his career, and on the occasion of his retirement, his many friends commissioned Jacob Epstein to fashion a bronze statue, now in the library of the new Medical School at Leeds. He died on 11 March 1978 in his 92nd year after a long illness.
Henry J. Bunker
Henry Bunker (1897-1975) was born in London on 27 April 1897 and educated at St Olave’s Grammar School. Here he gained the nickname ‘Bill’ and for the rest of his life he was ‘Bill Bunker’ to his friends and colleagues. He displayed scientific interests at an early age, lecturing to the Astronomical Society at 15, but his education was interrupted by World War I, the last three years of which he served in the infantry. He returned to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge in 1919 to take a degree with botany as principal subject. On leaving Cambridge, he took up his first professional position, as Assistant Bacteriologist in an Admiralty research organisation, the Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath in Dorset.
He became one of a small group of scientists, headed by A. C. Thaysen, studying topics in applied microbiology. One subject was the use of waste vegetation for the production of ethanol and alcohol. Another was concerned with microbiological breakdown of textiles, including cellulosic materials in particular. This work led to an intensive study of the microbiology of cellulolytic organisms, as well as an opportunity to examine the wrappings, dust and other materials from the recently-opened sarcophagus of Tutankhamun. His speciality had become the bacteria of the sulfur cycle, his research material being at first thiobacilli and later the sulfate-reducing bacteria.
During World War II, at the instigation of both the Medical Research Council and the armed forces, Thaysen’s group embarked on a project which was to supersede cellulolysis and the sulfur bacteria as Henry’s primary interest. Widespread malnutrition was, quite correctly, expected as a result of the War, and one of the first installations for preparing a food yeast on a pilot scale was set up at Teddington. The potential of microbes as protein sources intrigued Henry and the topic remained one of his major interests for the rest of his career. Henry’s training had included a course in brewing and, with his new experience of yeasts, he welcomed an opportunity to form and direct a research department for Barclay Perkins, an old-established brewery at Southwark in London. He joined them in 1944, and immediately the proportion of basic research which he could undertake declined. However, by now Henry was almost totally absorbed in the applications of science, and the variety of challenges offered by brewery technology delighted him. His lectures on this subject were much in demand, for their intrinsic interest as much as for the fact that he usually brought samples of the final product for the audience to taste.
Besides his strictly scientific work, Henry was an influential and respected figure in the learned societies associated with microbiology. Along with Marjory Stephenson and Paul Fildes, he was one of a small group that met together before 1940 to discuss the formation of the Society. Plans were inevitably delayed by the War but, when the Society was started in 1945, Henry became its first Treasurer. As well as his term as Society President, appreciation of his value was shown by the fact that he was elected to serve on the Council for two further periods, 1957-1960, and 1963-1967, after he had retired from the Presidency. The Society made him an honorary member in 1967. He was President of the Society for Applied Bacteriology from 1946 to 1949, and became a Trustee in 1960. He was a Fellow of the Institute of Biology and its President from 1967 to 1969; he was the first Chairman of the Microbiology Group of the Society of Chemical Industry, Fellow of the Institute of Food Science and Technology, of the Royal Society of Medicine and of the Royal Society of Arts, Honorary Member of the Microbiological Society of Spain; indeed his CV included 48 honourable and distinguished positions, some 20 of them actively held at the time of his death. Among those he was proudest of was his membership of the Council of Brunel University, one of the technically orientated universities to emerge in the 1960s. He played an important part in the organisation of the new University, and Brunel recognised his contributions, both to the University and to science, by conferring upon him an honorary Doctorate of Science in 1969.
He was immensely sociable, kind and friendly, on both private and public occasions, and his store of jokes was legendary. He was much in demand as an after-dinner speaker. Henry’s kindness, conviviality and general good humour sustained him through an unfair burden of illness and domestic sorrow. He died on 8 August 1975 at the age of 78, a great loss to microbiology of one of the father figures of microbial science and its applications.
Sir Christopher Andrewes
Christopher Andrewes (1896-1987) was the son of a pathologist and began his career as an assistant resident physician at the Hospital of the Rockefeller Institution in New York City, where he stayed for two years. Having decided to pursue a research career in virology, a field in which he spent nearly 40 years, Christopher joined the scientific staff of the Medical Research Council at Hampstead in North London in 1927. There, he worked on the role of viruses in transmittable tumours in animals.
Between 1930 and 1933, whilst working at the National Institute for Medical Research Christopher and two other men, Patrick Laidlaw and Wilson Smith, researched and identified for the first time the human influenza virus, type A. They inoculated ferrets with washings from the throat of a human flu victim. Several days later the animals started sneezing and were feverish. A ferret eventually passed the virus back to one of the researchers, completing the circle. From 1946 to 1960 they tried to isolate the virus in the laboratory. Christopher later went on to found the World Health Organization's (WHO) World Influenza Centre based at the NIMR.
He was Deputy Director of the National Institute for Medical Research from 1952 to 1961.
Shortly before his retirement in 1961, he was part of a team that isolated several viruses from patients with colds.
Sir Ashley Miles
Arnold Ashley Miles (1904-1988) was born in York where he was educated until went to Kings College Cambridge to read Medicine. As an undergraduate at Cambridge, he developed what proved to be a life-long interest in pathology. Clinical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, at a time when infection was rife and treatment almost entirely non-specific, centred his interest in the mechanisms in microbe and host which could account for the initiation of symptoms, their variety and for the outcome of infection.
After qualifying, Ashley became Demonstrator in Bacteriology at the London School of Hygiene where Topley and Wilson were Professors. He was greatly stimulated by the teaching of Topley for whom he retained a lasting admiration. Two years later, he returned to Cambridge as Demonstrator in the Pathology Department where he continued work started in London with Wilson on Brucella antigens and he collaborated with Pirie who then held a similar appointment in the Biochemistry Department.
In 1935, Ashley returned to London as Reader in Bacteriology at the British Postgraduate Medical School and, after two years, he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology at University College Hospital Medical School. Ashley interested himself in diagnostic methods which were at that time qualitative, incomplete and sometimes irrelevant to the clinical problems at issue. He wrote a handbook for undergraduates, and developed and published with a postgraduate Indian student and a statistician the Miles and Misra viable counting technique.
During World War II, the Medical Research Council, at the Government’s request, set up the War Wounds Committee to devise preventive methods not only in the field and base hospitals but also applicable to civilian hospitals which would receive air raid casualties and which were not subject to strict discipline. Ashley was a member of this committee and became Director of the MRC Infection Unit at the Birmingham Accident Hospital from 1942 to 1946. He collaborated with Wylie McKissock and Joyce Wright and they published the first controlled experiment of methods to reduce wound infection in hospital. He also devised simple experiments which nurses could perform to demonstrate to their own satisfaction that apparently clean sites could be heavily contaminated.
In 1946, he went to the Department of Biological Standards where he was Director from 1947 to 1952. In 1952, he left this post to become Director of the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine and Professor of Experimental Pathology in the University of London, appointments which he held until retirement in 1971. In 1953, he was appointed CBE. By the 1960s, Ashley found himself deprived of time for bench work, which he greatly preferred, and was seldom able to publish without collaborators.
His rapid understanding of other people's problems and his sound judgement made him invaluable as a committee member and in the proceedings of scientific societies. He was a Member of the Medical Research Council, of the Public Health Laboratory Service Board and Committees of the World Health Organisation. He was President of the Executive Board of the International Association of Microbiological Societies. In 1961, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, served on many of their committees and became Biological Secretary and Vice President from 1963 to 1968. He was an Honorary Member of the Pathological Society of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1966, he was knighted.
After retirement from the Lister, Ashley held an MRC grant to work at the Clinical Research Centre, Northwick Park, where he investigated the importance of free iron as a stimulant to bacterial growth and its possible significance in infection. In 1976 he was invited to be Deputy Director of Medical Microbiology at the London Hospital Medical College.
Ashley demanded the highest standards from his staff. He was a fearless critic and could appear formidable; pomposity attracted his wit. He was an iconoclast, which made him unpopular with some, but he was without malice. He always assumed people were as generally well-informed as himself and never talked down to students. He died a month before his 84th birthday. He is famous for his simple method of performing viable counts of bacteria and for his co-authorship of Topley and Wilson’s Principles of Bacteriology, Virology and Immunity, begun when Topley died in 1944 and continued to the 7th edition published in 1984. The results of his studies on inflammation and the prevention of infection are, however, the most important parts of his outstanding contribution to medical microbiology.
Sir Frederick C. Bawden
Fred Bawden (1908-1972) was born in North Tawton, Devon, and educated at Okehampton Grammar School, where Botany was the main science subject. This gained him a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ scholarship to Cambridge at Emmanuel College. At Cambridge, Fred was sport-loving and gregarious. He had an extremely retentive memory and was able, without apparent diligence, to impress the examiners and college authorities with his knowledge of botany, chemistry and physiology. While taking a Diploma in Agricultural Science he met Salaman and joined his staff at the Potato Virus Research Station. Fred was at first mainly concerned with necrotic diseases of the potato. As a sideline he experimented with infrared photography to show up necroses clearly. He said during World War II that he hoped the Germans had not read his paper because the green paint that was supposed to make factories look like fields and woods would show up dramatically on an infrared plate!
When Fred moved to Rothamsted with the title of Virus Physiologist, work was no longer restricted to viruses that infect potatoes. Like most plant virus workers he switched to tobacco mosaic virus and in a few weeks, using the methods that had been standard in protein chemistry for half a century, got liquid-crystalline preparations of an infective nucleoprotein. His interests after moving to Rothamsted were by no means limited to work on the properties of isolated viruses as his books clearly show. Besides the four editions of Plant Viruses and Virus Diseases, he published a general book called Plant Diseases, took an active interest in fungus diseases and their control, and encouraged similar breadth of interest in his colleagues.
Fred’s serological skill and experience, with both rod-shaped and approximately spherical viruses, helped to explain the already well-known differences between flagellar and somatic antigens. He also put it to good use in clearing up some of the confusion surrounding the tobacco necrosis viruses. Then, with Kleczkowski, he examined the complexes formed when bushy stunt or tobacco mosaic viruses are heated with serum albumin.
On becoming Director of Rothamsted he had less time for doing, and, more importantly, for thinking deeply about his own research. With characteristic eagerness not to lose touch with practice he insisted on doing all the inoculations for experiments in which he was involved and referred to this respite from paperwork as ‘occupational therapy’.
Besides research and administrative duties at Rothamsted, Fred accepted membership of an extensive range of committees and the Presidency of an almost equally extensive range of organisations, both in Britain and overseas. He was Chairman of Agricultural Research Council of Central Africa, a Knighted Member of the Natural Environment Research Council, President of the Association of Applied Biologists and Treasurer of the Royal Society to name a few. His reasons for undertaking all this work are not altogether clear. These activities consumed a great deal of time and he had no illusions about the actual or potential value of some of them. Honours received included Fellowship of Royal Society, the Research Medal of the Royal Agricultural Society, and Honorary Life Membership of the New York Academy of Sciences.
Fred’s cheerful, exuberant and humorous manner partly hid a great intensity of feeling on matters connected with research and the welfare of Rothamsted. When interjecting at a meeting on a theme that moved him, emotional tension often produced an unexpected quiver. It would be unreasonable to attribute his early death to overwork, but he worked extremely hard. As such, he was most easily reached on Saturday and Sunday, and when he was in Harpenden he was usually to be found in the laboratory long after most had left.
Professor Reg Lovell (1897-1972) was born on 2 January 1897 and was educated at Hardye's School, Dorchester. Throughout his life he remained proud of his county of origin and both by his speech and demeanour made it quite obvious that Dorset was his real homeland. In World War I, he joined the Dorset Yeomanry. His association with the Cavalry greatly influenced his choice of career as a veterinarian, and he joined the Royal Veterinary College, London, where he graduated in 1923
He started his early professional life in practice at Bungay in Suffolk. Soon afterwards, in 1925, he joined the University of Manchester as Demonstrator in Bacteriology. Later he became Research Assistant and Lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where he worked between 1927 and 1933. His work in Manchester had attracted the attention of Topley, whose department he joined, for he had already gained a high reputation as a bacteriologist as a result of his work on Salmonella. This must have been the turning-point of his career, for his contact with Topley and Wilson had a great and permanent influence on his way of thought. At the School of Hygiene he became associated in work of considerable importance relating to penicillin.
It was in 1933 that Reg joined the Department of Pathology in the Royal Veterinary College and became a Reader in Bacteriology and the Deputy Director of the Research Institute in Animal Pathology. From this point onwards he started to work on problems of direct veterinary importance and he was one of the first people to realise the importance of the relationship between infections of animals and of man. He became concerned with the infectious diseases of young animals, particularly infections of calves caused by Corynebacteria. He was also concerned with the neonatal diseases of calves and particularly calf diarrhoea and calf pneumonia.
A broad summary of Reg’s work does not do him justice in any way. It merely indicates the areas in which he was involved and it was characteristic of the man that he delved into a situation with an obsession and a determination which resulted in the acquisition of an authoritative knowledge of the particular subject. With hindsight it may be easy to criticise Reg for doing experiments on a traditional bacteriological basis, but the criticism is not valid in his case as is clearly shown by his writings, which express his far-reaching thoughts on the general aspects of disease and transmission of disease. He was an outstanding teacher - it was not by selling his subject that he achieved a great influence on his students but mainly by arousing in those who were able to appreciate his lectures a deep and real interest in the subject for its own merits.
Reg was a man who kept much to himself in matters not concerned with his work, but this did not suggest an unfriendly approach. This attitude was perhaps largely contributed by his Methodist background; for the whole of his life he was an active member of the Methodist Church and he occupied a prominent position in the Hendon Methodist community when he lived in London and in other places, and his sister was a missionary in Madagascar. This religious background had a strong influence on his whole life and on his outlook, although in later years he was much less restrictive than in his early life. He participated in a perhaps distant sort of fashion in many of the student activities he took up. He was always proud to be seen associated with student societies of one kind or another and he was a favourite winner for the post of treasurer in those societies. Nevertheless, there was a distinct bridge to cross in order to get very close to the man. Reg was by nature a retired sort of person and perhaps somewhat introspective and this gave the impression to many that he was not interested in them.
He was President of the Comparative Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine, the Almroth-Wright Lecturer in 1951 and in the same year was presented with the Dalrymple-Champneys Cup and Medal. Much of his effort was later turned towards the affairs of the Society of General Microbiology, particularly as Honorary Treasurer during the period 1951-1961 and as President, a period which all those who were associated with him knew as a dignified and inspiring time for the Society.
David W. W. Henderson
David Willis Wilson Henderson (1903-1968) was born in Glasgow on 23 July 1903. He attended Hamilton Academy but was a rather rebellious student, working well at science and subjects which interested him but giving scant attention to Latin, which he disliked. At his own insistence he was articled to a farmer as a prelude to a career in agriculture, but the experiment was not a success. The streak of impatience with arbitrarily imposed authority, which became a notable feature of David’s character in later life, asserted itself at this juncture with the result that the young David left the farm to read for a degree at Glasgow University. He chose Agricultural Bacteriology as his major subject and enrolled under J.F. Malcolm at the West of Scotland Agricultural College, where he graduated in 1926.
David’s first post was as Lecturer in Bacteriology at King’s College, University of Durham, where, in 1930, he received an MSc. He entered the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London, in 1931 with a Carnegie Research Fellowship; at the end of its second year he obtained a Beit Memorial Research Fellowship for the years 1932-1935. In 1934, he was awarded a PhD in the University of London for work on the spore-bearing anaerobes.
Soon after the outbreak of war he showed that mice could be killed by clostridial toxins administered in aerosols. His Director, Sir John Ledingham, considered this result of sufficient importance for official action, and in the early summer of 1940 David found his time divided between the Lister Institute’s Serum Department at Elstree and the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment, Porton, Wiltshire, which already had experience in handling toxic aerosols. In October 1940, as a result of instruction from the War Council, he joined a group of microbiologists which was being established at Porton to assess the feasibility of the use of biological agents against man and to devise methods of protection against such attacks. In 1943, a small party crossed the Atlantic and when it returned, David remained behind to assist the Americans with their efforts on biological defence. Thereafter, till the end of the war, he shuttled across the Atlantic, making experiments wherever better facilities were to be found.
In January 1946, David was offered the post of ‘Chief Superintendent of the Biological Research Establishment’ and characteristically accepted as ‘Director, Microbiological Research Department’. The new Department continued to occupy part of the animal house of the Physiology Section of the Chemical Defence Experimental Establishment supplemented by pre-fabricated huts built during the war. David based his concept on the laboratory of the National Institute for Medical Research at Mill Hill, planned before the war but still under construction. He wished to cover the same wide spread of scientific disciplines from the physical sciences to the biological sciences and to make special provision for the growth and handling of pathogenic micro-organisms on a considerable scale. He often set specifications so stringent as to be unrealistic. These he would only relax when convinced that they were unattainable. Building started in June 1948 and David drove it forward every inch of the way, unleashing thunderbolts on officials of the Ministry of Works or on their contractors every few weeks. In consequence, the building was completed in 3 years. He took possession of a laboratory, unique of its kind in the UK, which served for many years as a model for microbiological buildings in many parts of the world. By 1959, David and his staff had established an international reputation in microbiology. David’s cardinal role was recognised by the award of a CBE in 1957 and scientifically by his election to the Royal Society in 1959.
During the war, David had evolved an apparatus, known familiarly as ‘the piccolo’, for exposing animals to aerosols of pathogenic bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis and Pasteurella pestis, at known concentrations. Modifications of the ‘piccolo’ have been used throughout the world for controlled respiratory infections. With this apparatus and a more sophisticated sequel, ‘the organ’, David and his colleagues studied the effect of particle size on respiratory infection with B. anthracis, P. pestis and Brucella suis; the importance of small particles in establishing infection deep in the lung was recognised. Next David turned his attention to mixed infections by the respiratory route. He showed the profound effect that one infection could have on the course of another; for example, guinea pigs could be protected from anthrax and plague by first having brucellosis. Towards the end of his life David became interested in the pathogenesis of virus infections, despite a healthy scepticism of some methods of their assessment epitomised in his oft repeated remark "virologists can’t count"!
David was an original member of the Microbiology Society. He was a member of the Committee that guided the affairs of the Society in its formative years, from 1947 to 1951. When elected to President in 1963, he was already in failing health. Nevertheless, he was rarely absent from a Council meeting or a General Meeting of the Society during his term of office. At the personal level few could remain indifferent to David. He had a keen analytical brain but his judgements were often intuitive and only subsequently sanctioned by reason. He was always forthright, sometimes rude, occasionally downright offensive. He was often a thorn in the flesh of his superiors but his technical assessments were well considered in ‘high places’, and he had much personal charm and humour.
Percy W. Brian
Percy Wragge Brian (1910-1979) - always spoken of as ‘P.W.’ by his immediate colleagues - was regarded as one of the most distinguished botanists of his time. He gained a First in the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge in 1931, was awarded the Frank Smart Studentship in Botany, and in 1936 gained the degree of PhD for a thesis on the physiologic races of brown rust on species of Bromus. The results of this work were incorporated in an important joint paper in 1954 which effectively disproved the existence of the so-called ‘bridging hosts’ in the transmission of rusts.
After two years on the staff of Long Ashton Research Station, P.W. joined ICI, first at Jealott’s Hill Agricultural Research Station from 1936 to 1946, and then for 17 years at the Akers Research Laboratories, Welwyn. This period of more than a quarter of a century was the most prolific of original scientific work of his career and brought many important and seminal research papers in botany and mycology.
His earliest work stemmed from problems of soil fertility, and he was thus led to studies of the natural balance of fungi in the soil and of the possible soil-ecological role of fungal antibiotics. Many active substances (including viridin, gliotoxin and others) were isolated from the culture filtrates of soil fungi and their biological effects were studied. His demonstration that strains of Penicillium from the soil of Wareham Heath produce gliotoxin, and may therefore be associated with the mycotoxic and other biotic effects of this soil, was a landmark in soil microbiology and unfolded perspectives of enquiry which have been widely followed up.
The isolation of ‘curling factor’ and the establishment of its identity with griseofulvin, previously isolated by Raistrick, was the starting point for diverse researches and developments, extending to the therapy of fungal diseases of animals. The uptake of griseofulvin by plant roots and its movement to the leaves, shown by P.W. and co-workers in 1951, gave a powerful stimulus to the growing interest in systemic fungicides. Early in the 1950s, P.W. began the study of gibberellic acid, which extended into the recognition of gibberellins as plant hormones and wide-ranging investigations of their biological activities.
In recognition of his achievements in science he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1958, having been awarded the ScD of Cambridge University a little earlier.
In 1962, P.W. was appointed Regius Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow. Here, in addition to coping with the multifarious problems of university administration and teaching, he successfully directed his administrative tact and flair to encouraging all the existing lines of research pursued in the department, believing that a varied and balanced research programme was the best foundation and accompaniment for the teaching of modern botany. Characteristically P. W. did not push his own earlier interests but turned instead to the study of the relations between obligate fungal parasites and their plant hosts, a question which he had long had in mind. With the help of the Agricultural Research Council he was able to set up a small unit for this work, and on his accepting the invitation to the Chair of Botany in Cambridge in 1968, the unit was transferred thither and merged with the ARC Unit of Developmental Botany, the activities of which he continued to direct until his retirement in 1977.
For many years he was active in the leadership and as Chairman of the Association of Scientific Workers. He served as a member of the Agricultural Research Council, was twice President of the British Mycological Society, President of the Cambridge Philosophical Society, and President of the Association of Applied Biologists. His presidential addresses to these societies, and his Leeuwenhoek Lecture to the Royal Society in 1966, were masterpieces of critical survey. When, in 1975, he was honoured with the CBE for scientific services, it was a source of quiet gratification to all who knew him.
Ernest F. Gale
Ernest Gale (1914-2005) was Professor of Chemical Microbiology in the University of Cambridge from 1960 to 1981. He made a significant contribution to the Society's activities during its early years. His major contribution to microbiology was in emphasising the chemical and enzymatic basis of microbial activities, at a time when many cellular components and biochemicals were ill-defined. These ideas were published in 1947 in the ground-breaking book The Chemical Activities of Bacteria.
Ernest spent 50 years in Cambridge, completing a degree in Natural Sciences (Biochemistry) in 1936 and then a PhD in the Department of Biochemistry under the direction of Marjory Stephenson for studies on the adaptation of sugar-metabolising enzymes in Escherichia coli and factors that influence the deamination of amino acids. This research led to a rapid and accurate method of estimating free amino acids, which in turn facilitated the study of the movement of amino acids into and out of bacterial cells.
During the 1950s, Ernest worked on the involvement of RNA in the incorporation of amino acids into protein, using an in vitro system from Staphylococcus aureus. With hindsight it is possible to distinguish the effects of mRNA and tRNA in the results obtained, but at the time they were part of a lively controversy, which Ernest eventually left to the likes of Crick and Monod to resolve.
Instead, Ernest turned his attentions to the mode of action of antibiotics, triggered not only by the finding that penicillin altered bacterial permeability to amino acids and inhibited synthesis of the cell wall, but also to an incident during World War II. Ernest had received from ICI a small sample of penicillin, but before he could use it for laboratory experiments he received an emotional call from a clinical colleague to help a nurse dying of a staphylococcal infection. Administration of the penicillin produced a dramatic improvement in the nurse's condition, but there was insufficient to continue treatment and she died. This experience had a profound effect on him and he devoted the rest of his scientific career to the study a wide range of antibiotics. His book The Molecular Basis of Antibiotic Action remains a classic text. Later he turned his attention to antifungal antibiotics, particularly the polyenes and mechanisms of resistance.
The originality of Ernest’s research and its significance was marked by the award of an ScD degree in 1947 and his election as a Fellow of The Royal Society in 1953. In 1948, he became Director of the Medical Research Council Unit for Chemical Microbiology or 'Microbiology Unit' (MBU) within the Department of Biochemistry, and in 1960 the University of Cambridge created a personal Chair of Chemical Microbiology for him. He held many distinguished lectureships at home and abroad and travelled widely, giving lectures in Russia, the USA and Australia. He sat on several national and international committees, including the International Union of Biochemistry Commission on Enzymes from 1957 to 1961.
He retired in 1983, moving from Cambridge to live in Salcombe, Devon, where regular family holidays had been spent for many years. In retirement he spent his time walking and swimming, reading thrillers not scientific papers, and developing his considerable skills as a wood carver. The last years of his life were blighted by virtually complete loss of memory, and were spent in London closer to his family. To the end he remained unassuming and dignified, somewhat ironically succumbing to a pneumonia that not even the antibiotics that he had studied for a professional lifetime could cure.
Sidney R. Elsden
Sidney Elsden (1915-2006) was Head of the Microbiology Department at the University of Sheffield from 1949 to 1965 and Director of the Agricultural Research Council's Food Research Institute from 1965 to 1977. In addition to his experimental contributions to biochemical microbiology, he was responsible for leading the establishment and early development of both these laboratories. He was an original member and then an Honorary Member of the Society, serving on Council from 1963 to 1967 and as President from 1969 to 1972. In 1967 he was awarded the Marjory Stephenson Memorial Lecture.
Sidney spent his early years in Cambridge and, after attending the Cambridge & County High School for Boys, entered Fitzwilliam House, where he held a Goldsmiths' Company Exhibition, and graduated in 1936 with a double first in the Natural Sciences Tripos. Following a year of research in the Cambridge Biochemistry Department under Marjory Stephenson, who kindled his lifelong interest in micro-organisms, he was appointed to a lectureship in the Physiology Department of Edinburgh University. In 1941, he gained his PhD from Cambridge University for biochemical work on bacteria and on muscle tissue. His long association with the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) began in 1942 when he joined their Unit of Animal Physiology in Cambridge. Here he devised an innovative method for the separation of short-chain fatty acids on silica gel columns and used it to investigate their microbial production in ruminants.
In 1948, Sidney was appointed Senior Lecturer in the University of Sheffield, heading a biochemistry-based sub-department within the Bacteriology Department, and a one-year postgraduate course in microbiology was introduced in 1950. He was adept at connecting a fistula to a sheep's rumen and he could thus easily obtain rumen contents with their plethora of micro-organisms. One of his isolates was an hitherto unknown, large, Gram-negative, non-sporing, anaerobic coccus which produced C1-C6 fatty acids. This organism was eventually adopted as the type species of a new genus and appropriately named Megasphaera elsdenii.
In 1952, Sheffield University created a separate Department of Microbiology with Sidney as its head and the ARC then appointed him Honorary Director of a Unit for Microbiology which they established within the new Department. The research programme expanded steadily and embraced photosynthetic bacteria, growth yields in relation to ATP generation, bacteriophage and bacteriocins as well as numerous aspects of anaerobes. In 1959, the West Riding of Yorkshire endowed a Chair of Microbiology with Sidney as the first incumbent.
In 1965, he started the second phase of his professional career by accepting the Directorship of the new ARC Food Research Institute to be built in Norwich. His careful planning and excellent rapport with the architects resulted in a spacious and elegant building with a good balance of standardised laboratories and specialised areas for services and large equipment. In the 1970s, Sidney became increasingly involved in a wide range of committee and advisory work relating to food research and biology, both locally and nationally.
After retirement, he continued with his scientific interests for a few years at UEA before reverting to his long-standing hobbies of gardening, fishing and cooking. In 1985, the University of Sheffield recognised his distinction as a microbiologist and as Director of the Food Research Institute by awarding him the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.
Sir David G. Evans
David Evans (1909-1984) graduated in 1933 with a degree in Physics and Chemistry from the University of Manchester, and he gained his Master of Science in 1934. He finished his PhD in 1938 and began working at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR) two years later. He left in 1947 to become a Reader in the Bacteriology Department at the University of Manchester, but returned to the NIMR in 1955 as Director of the Biological Standards Department. In 1961, David became Professor of Bacteriology and Immunology at London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, a position he left in 1971 to become Director of the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1960 and awarded their Buchanan Medal in 1977 for his work. He was awarded CBE in 1969 and knighted in 1977. He retired in 1979.
Harry Smith (1921-2011) specialised in microbial pathogenicity and was renowned for his pioneering studies on how bacteria survive in vivo. He first studied Pharmaceutical Chemistry at University College, Nottingham, when it was still an outpost of the University of London. His PhD involved the first chemical synthesis of a dinucleotide and was examined by Professors Todd and Ingold. His intention had been to follow a career in chemistry, starting as a full Lecturer in Nottingham, where he had met and proposed to his lifelong partner, Janet. However, Lord Todd was instrumental in recruiting him to Porton Down, encouraged by the offer of a house and an extra £100 a year to his proposed £700 annual salary in Nottingham. He was assigned Dr David Henderson’s Microbiology Section, where interest was turning to studies of microbial pathogenicity.
First, Harry investigated the virulence-enhancing properties of mucin. This led to the discovery that sometimes multiple factors combine synergistically to produce their biological effect. In the case of mucin, three factors were involved in the interaction: heparin, chondroitin sulfate and blood group substance, none of which were active alone.
The anthrax project immediately followed the mucin studies. Extracts of Bacillus anthracis isolated from infected animals were not toxic, but plasma from these animals caused oedema when injected subcutaneously, and killed mice and guinea pigs when injected intravenously. The toxin was subsequently produced in culture and shown to consist of three components, none of which were toxic when injected alone. This was the first chemical analysis of bacteria harvested from infected animals: it had three repercussions. First, it stimulated fresh interest in a subject that had become moribund; second, it showed that toxins can be multi-component; and finally, it confirmed Harry's lifelong interest in microbial pathogenicity.
In 1964, Harry successfully applied for the Chair in Microbiology at the University of Birmingham where he established a department focusing on plant, microbial and viral pathogenicity. A major project for many years was to determine the molecular basis of gonococcal serum resistance: in short, how do gonococci survive in the human body? It was almost 20 years later that the nucleotide CMP-NANA was identified as the host factor that protects the gonococcus against complement-mediated killing by sialylating its lipo-oligosaccharide.
Ten years after leaving Porton, an outbreak of anthrax in Russia caused alarm that the Russians were still working on germ warfare. He was appointed advisor to the UK Government on biological warfare and he recruited the virologist David Kelly to help him. Harry was possibly the last person to speak to Dr Kelly on the fateful day of his death. His CBE was awarded for services to the Ministry of Defence.
His many academic awards included a fellowship of the Royal Society, the Stuart Mudd award in 1994, and visiting professorships at UCLA, Berkeley, Seattle, Ann Arbor and the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpar. He loved interacting with young people. He also spotted talent, and went to extraordinary lengths to promote young, talented scientists. He was also awarded a CBE.
As well as serving as President, he was also Treasurer and Meetings Secretary of SGM, and an Honorary Member of the Society. When he was Meetings Secretary, the Society had only one member of staff based in the Institute of Biology in London, and SGM Officers completed their tasks from their home institutions. While he was the SGM Treasurer, he made the Society far more professional, but to avoid paying high London rents and wages, he persuaded Council to buy Harvest House in Reading, where property was still cheap and salaries were lower.
Harry died peacefully at the age of 90 on 10 December 2011.
Peter L. Wildy
Peter Wildy (1920-1987) was educated at Eastbourne College and then went on to study medicine at Cambridge University and St Thomas's Hospital Medical School in London. He qualified MRCS LRCP (1944) and MB BChir (1948). From 1945 to 1947, Peter served in the Royal Army Medical Corps in India, Egypt, and West Africa, before returning to a fellowship at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School. Appointed to a Lectureship there in Bacteriology in 1952, he soon became interested in the rapidly growing field of virology and went to study with Sir MacFarlane Burnet at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne. It was there that he started work on herpes, which was to be his major research interest for the remainder of his career. He continued this work on returning to St Thomas's and was appointed Senior Lecturer in Bacteriology in 1957. Next he went to Cambridge and then to Glasgow, where, with Michael Stoker as Director, he created the Medical Research Council's new Experimental Virus Research Unit. Peter was assistant director of the unit from 1959 to 1963.
However, it was in the short stay in Cambridge that Peter established his name among virologists worldwide. With Sydney Brenner and Bob Horne, he applied the technique of negative staining to the study of viruses. The interest created by this work led Peter into virus classification, and his 1966 Nature paper ‘What's in a virus name?’ set out a logical scheme for classifying viruses. This led in turn to the formation of the International Committee for Virus Nomenclature (later the International Committee for the Taxonomy of Viruses), of which Peter was the first chairman.
In 1963, Peter became Professor of Virology and Bacteriology at the University of Birmingham, where he put together an excellent herpes virology team. Clearly, the housekeeping chores of a university department occupied a lot of his time, but he still had the vision to introduce an MSc course in virology which was copied by several other universities. At this time he also started with Colin Kaplan a new journal, Journal of General Virology, which from its humble beginnings in 1967 became a well-established and well-regarded addition to the virology scene. As though that was not enough, together with Joseph Melnick of the USA he initiated the International Congresses of Virology.
In 1975, Peter moved to the Chair of Pathology at Cambridge and became a fellow of Gonville and Caius College. He had clear ideas about how the department should move forward and he was making arrangements at the time of his death to secure the study of parasitology within both the university and the Molteno Institute.
Because of his many contributions to microbiology, Peter was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1962. He served on the board of the Public Health Laboratory Service, as well as being an adviser to the World Health Organisation and a member of several governing bodies of research council institutes. His wide knowledge and equable personality led to his chairing many (perhaps too many) committees involved in rationalising British microbiology.
Peter was a countryman at heart and usually found a house in or near a village in which to spend a very full family life. His manner was friendly and kind and it was this manner, together with his generous spirit, which made him the father figure of British virology during his later years. He was also a man of many parts, able to turn his hand to many activities. Aside from his skill on the flute and piccolo, he became involved in the spinning and dying of wool, reroofed a barn and rebuilt several of the rooms in his house in Abberley in his Birmingham days. On top of all these activities, he had a wonderful sense of humour, which enabled him to defuse many difficult professional situations. He was a mimic with quite professional skills and an excellent after-dinner speaker.
Peter died from lung cancer in Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, on 10 March 1987 and was buried at Hinxton.
Professor Roger Whittenbury began his career at Edinburgh University's East of Scotland School of Agriculture before moving to Stanford University to take up a Research Fellowship. He later returned to the UK to Edinburgh, and then on to the University of Warwick to take up the post of Professor of Biology.
John R. Postgate
John Postgate (1922-2014) was Professor of Microbiology at the University of Sussex and Director of the Unit of Nitrogen Fixation from 1980 to 1987. Born on 24 June 1922, he attended Woodstock School (Golders Green, London) and Kingsbury County School (Middlesex), among others; then took First Class Honours in Chemistry from Balliol College, Oxford, followed by a DPhil for research in Chemical Microbiology. He later received a DSc from Oxford. In 1948, John married Mary Stewart, a graduate in English of St Hilda’s College and later a Justice of the Peace, who died in 2008.
During his career, his principal research themes were the biochemistry and bacteriology of the sulfate-reducing bacteria; the physiology of death and survival of freezing and starvation in Klebsiella, and the biochemistry, physiology and genetics of non-symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
John was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1977, a Fellow of the Institute of Biology (1965) and was its President from 1982 to 1984. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois (1962-63) and at Oregon State University (1977-78). Other honours include Hon DSc, Bath, 1990; Hon LlD, Dundee, 1997; and Honorary Member of the Society for Applied Microbiology.
He has published a number of books, including The Sulphate-Reducing Bacteria (2nd edn, 1984), The Fundamentals of Nitrogen Fixation (1982) and An Introduction to Nitrogen Fixation (3rd edn, 1998); and over 200 research papers. In addition, he has edited several symposia and written over 30 articles on popular science and two books, Microbes and Man (4th edn, 2000) and The Outer Reaches of Life (2nd edn, 1995). Non-scientific books include A Stomach For Dissent (1994, with Mary Postgate), a biography of his father, Raymond Postgate, and Lethal Lozenges and Tainted Tea (2001), a biography of an earlier John Postgate, a Victorian food reformer.
John was a jazz enthusiast and amateur musician; published A Plain Man's Guide To Jazz (1973), several essays about jazz and numerous record reviews; also, with discographer Bob Weir, Looking for Frankie (2003), a bio-discography of jazz trumpeter Frankie Newton. Before his death, he lived in Lives in Lewes, East Sussex, and is survived by three grown-up daughters and seven grandchildren.
Derek C. Burke
Derek Burke was born in 1930. He trained as a chemist at the University of Birmingham from 1947 to 1953, and subsequently did postdoctoral work at Yale University (1953-1955), isolating novel nucleosides from a Caribbean sponge with arabinose as the pentose sugar. After marriage to Mary Elizabeth Dukeshire on Long Island, USA, in May 1955, he returned to the UK and, rather than being called up for military service, he was fortunate to get a job at the National Institute for Medical Research from 1955 to 1960 working on influenza virus and interferon. He then went to Aberdeen University as a Lecturer, later Senior Lecturer, in Biochemistry. In 1969, he was appointed by the University of Warwick as the founding Professor of their new Department of Biological Sciences where he continued research on the molecular biology of viruses and on interferon. He led a group which isolated clones of human interferon genes and also made the first monoclonal antibody against human interferon, both in collaboration with British companies, and he was a member for many years of the working parties responsible for clinical trials of interferon in the UK.
In 1982, he went to Toronto to help start Allelix, Canada’s biggest biotechnology company, as Vice-President and Scientific Director, and in 1987 returned to the UK as Vice-Chancellor of the University of East Anglia, retiring in 1995, moving initially to live in Cambridge and then moving back to Norwich in 2006.
Over the years he has served on a number of scientific bodies: specifically he has been President of the Society of General Microbiology (1987-1990), Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (1988-1997), a member of the Cancer Research Campaign Council (1987-1997), and Chairman of the Council of the CRC Paterson Institute for Cancer Research (1992-1997). He was Chairman of the Governing Council of the John Innes Centre (1987-1995), and a member of the Science & Engineering Board and the Technology Interaction Board of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (1994-1997). He was a member of the Office of Science and Technology’s Technology Foresight Steering Group (1993-1995). He was Chairman of Genome Research Limited, the body responsible for the governance of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge, from 1997 to 1998, and a member of the Governing Bodies of several Research Institutes, including the Institute for Food Research in Norwich (1994-2002).
Outside research, Derek has been a Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology (1995-2003), and a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Working Party on the Genetic Modification of plants (1997-1999; 2003-2004). He has also been a member of bodies concerned with ethical issues arising out of new science for both the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (2004-2007) and the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (2007-2010). He was President of Christians in Science (1999-2001). Locally, he has been Chairman of the Norwich Society (2010-2011) and a Church Warden in both Hethersett and Cambridge.
Professor Burke is married with four children (one deceased) and ten grandchildren. He was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1992, and awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List in 1994.
J. Rodney Quayle
Rod Quayle (1926-2006) was born and grew up in Mold, North Wales. Following his graduation in Chemistry from the University College of North Wales, Bangor, in 1946, he did a PhD with Professor E.D. Hughes in physical organic chemistry. His obvious talents were recognised with a senior research award from the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and by Professor A.R. (later Lord) Todd who picked him to study the chemistry of blood pigments in Cambridge where he, unusually, took a second PhD in 1951. It was his research on photosynthesis with Professor Melvin Calvin at Berkeley that ignited his career in microbial C1 metabolism.
It was with Calvin that he published the classic paper on the carboxylation of ribulose bisphosphate to phosphoglycerate in cell extracts of Chlorella in 1954. He became recognised universally as being the godfather of the subject, and he tutored and inspired many with his knowledge and insight which was far broader than carbon metabolism. This lasted right up to the late 1980s when his appointment as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath in 1983 somewhat curtailed his active involvement in the subject, although he did Chair the British National Committee for Microbiology (1985-1990). Nevertheless, it did not diminish his interest and role as being adviser, confidante and unraveller of some of the more complex issues of C1 metabolism.
Rod returned from Calvin's lab in 1955 with a brief foray into pyrethrum insecticides at the Tropical Products Institute in London, moving swiftly to Hans Krebs' laboratory in 1956 to continue his passion for the metabolism of C1 and C2 compounds when he collaborated with Hans Kornberg and showed that bacterial growth on acetate involved the glyoxylate cycle. He used his experience in photosynthesis from Calvin's lab with labelled compounds to set out evaluating the metabolism of methanol, formate and carbon dioxide in bacteria. His work led to the discovery of the serine pathway and, from studies with methane-oxidising bacteria, the ribulose monophosphate cycle that paved the way for the discovery of a variety of cycles and pathways in C1-utilising bacteria and yeasts.
Much of this work was done during his tenure as Senior Lecturer (1963-1965) and then Professor (1965-1983) at Sheffield University. Rod's pioneering work was recognised by his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society and the award of the CIBA Medal and Prize of the Biochemical Society, both in 1978. He was awarded honorary doctorates from the Universities of Göttingen (1989), Bath (1992) and Sheffield (1992).
In retirement he kept a strong interest in local area health authority matters and was a member of the Board of the Bath Festivals Trust, the Bristol Exploratory and member of the Council of the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering.
Professor J.G. Jones was head of a Freshwater Ecology Station in the Lakes District. Unfortunately, he had to resign soon after his election as President due to ill health.
A. (Tony) P.J. Trinci
Tony Trinci was Professor of Cryptogamic Botany at The University of Manchester and one of the UK's leading mycologists. His research focused on human nutrition and health.
Sir Howard Dalton
Howard Dalton (1944-2008) was born in New Malden, Surrey. He was highly intelligent with an inquiring mind and his early interest in science was evident from his many exploits with cocktails of chemicals, which often had explosive consequences! After attending Raynes Park Grammar School, Howard was awarded a place at Queen Elizabeth College, University of London, graduating in 1965 with a BSc in Microbiology.
His research career started when he undertook a DPhil with Professor John Postgate FRS at the ARC Unit of Nitrogen Fixation, University of Sussex, where he worked on nitrogen fixation in the soil bacterium Azotobacter and helped to elucidate how this aerobic soil bacterium protects its nitrogenase from oxygen damage by augmentation of respiration and conformational protection mechanisms. Howard then worked for two years as a postdoctoral fellow with Professor Len Mortensen at Purdue University, Indiana, on the biochemistry of nitrogenase in the anaerobic bacterium Clostridium.
Ever resourceful, while in the USA he avoided the possibility of being drafted to Vietnam by his ordination into the Universal Life Church, ironically on 1 April 1969!
Howard returned to the University of Sussex in 1970 to work with Dr Bob Bray in the Department of Chemistry on two molybdenum-containing enzymes, nitrate reductase from Aspergillus nidulans and xanthine dehydrogenase from Veillonella alcalescens. The following year, Howard married Kira Rozdestvensky, and when Professor Roger Whittenbury persuaded Howard to take up a lectureship in Microbiology at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Warwick in 1973, they settled in the village of Radford Semele near Leamington Spa. Roger recalls that Warwick in those days was hardly a magnet for microbiologists, offering only an abandoned chemistry laboratory containing just two pieces of equipment, a broken piano and a dartboard! A brief chat about his background and a promise that he would work on Roger's beloved methane-oxidising bacteria and that was sufficient to initiate Howard's long and illustrious tenure at Warwick.
Howard built up a large research group at Warwick, which pioneered work on a soluble, cytoplasmic methane mono-oxygenase (MMO) and a completely distinct membrane-bound particulate MMO. Through this research he also made extremely important contributions to research into the use of microbes to produce chemicals, work which was to stimulate his later interests in biofuels.
He was a consultant for the New Jersey company Celanese and then joined the Scientific Advisory Board for the spin-out biotechnology company Celgene. Howard was awarded a Personal Chair at Warwick in 1983 and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1993. He was awarded the Leeuwenhoek Medal at the Royal Society in 2000 and received a knighthood in the New Year Honours list in 2007 for his services to science. Howard also made significant contributions to the life of the University of Warwick. He was Chair of the Department of Biological Sciences (1999-2002) and held many positions in the University, dealing with academic matters and other areas of University life. His enthusiasm for and extensive knowledge of Japanese gardens were also brought into play on campus, resulting in the creation of two fine gardens at Warwick.
In 2002, Howard was seconded to become Chief Scientific Adviser to Defra, a role in which he sought to instil scientific rigour into policy-making decisions based on sound scientific evidence. Howard led the scientific advisory team generating the UK contingency plan for dealing with avian influenza virus and was instrumental in raising the profile of climate change as a significant threat, delivering lectures on this and other topics such as biofuels and GM crops at many national and international meetings. He returned full time to Warwick in October 2007.
Howard had an immense zest for science and life in general and was a fine sportsman in every sense of the word. A great passion was real tennis and he was a member of Leamington Real Tennis Club where his competitive spirit, guile and ability won him many tournaments. It was here, while playing in a friendly doubles tournament, that he tragically collapsed and died on 12 January 2008. He had just returned from a month in The Gambia assisting his wife Kira in her extensive humanitarian work, setting up new schools and medical centres there. This work will now be assisted through generous contributions made to the African Oyster Trust in his memory. He was also excited by the prospect of advising the Gambian government on a number of important environmental issues.
David studied botany at Cambridge, with a particular interest in genetics. When he graduated in 1954 it was suggested that the streptomycetes, then often thought to be intermediate between bacteria and fungi, would make an interesting subject for genetic analysis.
During his PhD he discovered and harnessed natural gene exchange to make the first chromosome map of a streptomycete. With Audrey Glauert, he showed that the streptomycetes are in fact true bacteria and that their resemblance to fungi must have arisen independently. Nevertheless the streptomycetes have revealed many genetic novelties compared with other bacteria.
More than 50 years later, after posts as Assistant Lecturer at Cambridge, Lecturer in Glasgow, and finally head of the Genetics Department at the John Innes Centre and Professor at the University of East Anglia, Norwich (now Emeritus), he is still as interested in the same microbe - Streptomyces coelicolor - as on day one of his PhD studies. However, much water has flowed under the bridge. Through the efforts of many scientists, this organism became, genetically, the model for the actinomycetes, with versatile in vivo and in vitro genetics.
David’s interest in antibiotics was kindled by studying the genetics of actinorhodin, the blue polyketide antibiotic pigment that gives S. coelicolor its name. After the complete gene cluster was cloned, segments of it were used to produce the first hybrid antibiotics by inter-species cloning. This was a catalyst for the development of the field of ‘combinatorial biosynthesis of unnatural natural products’. He was involved in this field as a visiting fellow at Kosan Biosciences Inc, in Hayward, California. Meanwhile he coordinated the project to sequence the large (8.7 Mb) linear chromosome of S. coelicolor. The sequence most notably revealed more than 20 gene clusters for interesting antibiotics and other specialised metabolites that are not expressed under typical screening conditions. He received a knighthood for his work in 1994.
T. Hugh Pennington
Hugh Pennington is a Londoner by birth, a Lancashireman by upbringing and a Scot by domicile. He trained in medicine and obtained his PhD at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School. After a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin he spent 10 years at the MRC Institute of Virology in Glasgow working on patterns of viral protein synthesis before moving to the Chair of Bacteriology at Aberdeen University. Research there focused on the molecular typing of bacterial pathogens including E. coli O157, streptococci, and MRSA. He was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and chaired an inquiry into the 1996 Central Scotland E. coli O157 outbreak and the Public Inquiry into the 2005 South Wales E. coli O157 outbreak.
He was a foundation member of the United Nations University / World Food Programme technical advisory group and the Food Standards Agency Scottish Food Advisory Group.
Since becoming Emeritus in 2003 he has continued media work. A BBC Radio Desert Island Discs castaway, he has been interviewed by Jeremy Paxman, James Naughtie and Kirsty Wark, and considers his best moment was saying 'bollocks' on the Today programme in response to a comment by John Humphrys!
Hugh claimed he felt enormously privileged to be Society President, and he was particularly pleased to be able to use the influence of the Society to induce the three Norwegian microbiology societies to meet together – for the first time – in Bergen with the Microbiology Society.
An important current focus is continuing to induce regulators and others to implement the recommendations of his Welsh Public Inquiry report. While progress is mostly good, he still sympathises with Lord Justice Leveson!
Hugh was elected FRSE in 1997 and FmedSci in 1998.
Robin A. Weiss
Robin A. Weiss FRS is Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Viral Oncology in the Division of Infection & Immunity at University College London (UCL). Robin studied Zoology at UCL, graduating in 1961. After working as an MRC research assistant on population genetics in India, he became a virologist through his doctoral studies of Rous sarcoma virus in chickens as a tool for studying malignant transformation of cells. After post-doctoral sojourns in the Czech Republic and in the USA, Robin worked at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund Laboratories (now part of Cancer Research UK). From 1980 to 1996, he was Director of Research at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, returning to UCL in 1999.
Early in his career, Robin found that retroviral genomes can be inherited as Mendelian traits in host DNA, marking the discovery of endogenous retroviruses. More recently, he showed that endogenous retroviruses in pigs can infect human cells and be a potential hazard for xenotransplantation.
Robin has made pioneering contributions to HIV and AIDS, most notably the identification of CD4 as the HIV receptor. He has worked on AIDS-associated cancers such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and is currently investigating HIV vaccine and microbicide development supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. These investigations sparked an interest in cross-species infections and the origins of pandemics.He is Chair of the Board of the newly established Foundation for Vaccine Research registered in Washington DC. Robin has also held the post of President of the British Association of Cancer Research (2001-2005).
Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott completed her PhD at the University of Warwick on the biodegradation of phenoxyalkanoic herbicides by rhizosphere communities. She undertook a postdoctoral Fellowship in Calgary University before establishing her own research group in Exeter University, working on unravelling the complexities within biofilm communities. This resulted in the successful training of 50 PhD students to completion, many of whom have senior academic or senior posts in multi-national businesses.
Hilary was elected to various Society committees and became Convener of the Environmental Microbiology Group (1996). She was appointed the Scientific Meetings Officer (2004) and introduced the present Division and theme structure of conference planning and organising. Hilary also established the Microbiology Society Prize Medal (first awarded in 2009) and other initiatives to encourage young microbiologists.
Hilary joined the Society in 1984. She was elected to the Society Council in 2000 and President in 2009. As President she combined the leadership and figurehead roles to deliver unprecedented levels of change needed for the Society, now being continued by Professor Nigel Brown.
Within her discipline Hilary was elected as the President of the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) and served two terms in this role (2006-2010). Some of Hilary’s initiatives for ISME included co-founding ‘The ISME Journal’ and promoting microbial ecology globally, including successful initiatives in Asia and South America. She initiated and delivered a Memorandum of Understanding between the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and ISME.
Hilary was the second female President in nearly seven decades of the Society’s history, after Marjory Stephenson over 60 years ago. Uniquely, she held both the Society Presidency and the Presidency of ISME simultaneously. Additionally, she played major roles in ASM, including Division Q Chair and is a member of the International Board. Hilary is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the Society of Biology and the European Academy of Microbiology.
Nigel L. Brown
Nigel Brown studied Biochemistry at the University of Leeds, where his PhD was on Myxococcus bacteriophage. Following a postdoctoral fellowship with Dr Fred Sanger at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, on bacteriophage fX174, he was appointed Lecturer and then Royal Society Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. There he started work on bacterial interactions with toxic metals, mechanisms of metal resistance and metalloregulation of gene expression - something he would continue, among other researches, for the rest of his career. His major contributions were on mercury, copper, zinc and lead resistance in Gram-negative bacteria.
As Professor of Microbiology at Birmingham, he succeeded Harry Smith, a former President of the Society, and always joked that he succeeded Harry but could not possibly replace him! At Birmingham, Nigel became Head of Biological Sciences and subsequently Head of Chemistry. He was simultaneously Chief Editor of FEMS Microbiology Reviews and oversaw its impact factor rise from 4.6 to 10.2.
He was always adamant that only those who had spent time doing research should manage research, and in 2004 he was appointed Director of Science and Technology of the BBSRC, managing the BBSRC grants portfolio and science strategy as well as initiating a number of major programmes, including Systems Biology and Bioenergy. After 4 successful years at BBSRC, he was invited to be Head of the College of Science and Engineering at Edinburgh, later becoming Senior Vice-Principal with responsibility for planning, resources and research policy.
During his career he was elected to Fellowships of the Institute (later Society) of Biology, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He took early retirement in 2012 to focus on his external activities - including inter alia President of the Society, member of the Scottish Science Advisory Council, and Vice-Chair of the ERA-Net in Systems Biology of Microorganisms. He was the founding chair of the Society Policy Committee, producing the Society’s first position papers.
Neil A.R. Gow
Neil Gow undertook his undergraduate degree at the University of Edinburgh, then gained his PhD from the University of Aberdeen. He is a founding member of the Aberdeen Fungal Group and was the Co-Director for Research at the centre's Medical Mycology section. Having worked at the University of Aberdeen for 38 years, he is now a Professor of Microbiology and the Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Exeter.
Neil’s research focuses on the fields of fungal biology and medical mycology, exploring how the cell walls of fungal pathogenic species are assembled, respond to antifungal antibiotics and are recognised by the human immune system.
As President of the Microbiology Society, Neil oversaw the launch of the ambitious new 2018–2022 strategy and was instrumental in the creation of the Early Career Microbiologists’ Forum.
Under his presidency, the Society saw a growth in membership numbers and arranged its biggest and most diverse Annual Conference to date in 2017.
Neil is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Institute of Biology, Royal Society of Edinburgh, and American Academy of Microbiologists. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 2016 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology (FRSB). In addition to the Microbiology Society, he is a former President of the British Mycological Society as well as the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology (ISHAM).
President 2019 – present
Judith Armitage gained her PhD at University College London in 1976. A bacterial physiologist using interdisciplinary approaches to study bacterial behaviour, she joined the Society as a PhD student in the early 1970s. She has been based in Oxford since 1985 and is a fellow of Merton College. Judith was an editor of the Journal of Bacteriology for 10 years and is currently one of the two Editors in Chief of Current Opinions in Microbiology. She is a member of EMBO, a Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology and the Royal Society of Biology, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013.