Past Presidents

The Microbiology 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. The Microbiology Society was formally inaugurated on 16 February 1945, at a meeting of Original Members in London. Sir Alexander Fleming was elected as the first President.


    • Sir Alexander Fleming

      Sir Alexander Fleming (2)

      Founder and first President 1945–1947

      Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) was born on 6 August 1881 at Lochfield, near Darvel, Ayrshire, Scotland. He qualified at St Mary’s Hospital Medical School in 1906 and was asked to join the research department, where he became Assistant Bacteriologist to Sir Almroth Wright, a pioneer in vaccine therapy and immunology. 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 work on a new drug, Salvarsan, for the treatment of syphilis. This marked the beginning of chemotherapy and Alexander Fleming’s lifelong interest in the investigation of chemical antiseptics in the treatment of infection.

      Following World War I, he actively searched for antibacterial agents, having witnessed the deaths of many soldiers from sepsis resulting from infected wounds. In 1921, he discovered lysozyme, which he always considered more important than the discovery of penicillin.

      By 1927, Alexander Fleming was investigating the properties of staphylococci and was elected Professor of Bacteriology of the University of London in 1928. 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, he 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. He 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. For his ground-breaking work, Alexander Fleming received a knighthood in 1944 and was co-recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1945. He died at his home in London in 1955 and was buried in St Paul’s Cathedral.

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    • Marjory Stephenson

      Marjory Stephenson

      President 1947–1948

      Marjory Stephenson (1885–1948) played 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 was born on 24 January 1885 at Burwell, near Cambridge, where she graduated from Newnham College. Her career as a biochemist started at University College London, and during the First World War she ran hospital kitchens in France and worked as a VAD in Greece. She was awarded an MBE in recognition of her service.

      After the war she returned to Cambridge to work in the department of biochemistry, working on bacterial metabolism and the study of intracellular enzymes, with particular emphasis on oxidation mechanisms. Together with Margaret Whetham and Juda Quastel, she developed the washed suspension technique, which had originated with Louis Pasteur, for extracting enzymes from bacteria. She was appointed Lecturer in Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge in 1943. In 1945, Marjory was one of the first two women elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society.

      She died in 1948, one year after being appointed Reader in Chemical Microbiology at the University of Cambridge. The Society established the Marjory Stephenson Prize in her honour in 1953, awarded annually to an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the discipline of microbiology.

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    • J. Walter McLeod

      J. Walter McLeod

      President 1949–1952

      Walter McLeod (1887–1978) was born in Dumbarton, near Glasgow, on 2 January 1887. 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. 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 Corps as a temporary lieutenant, going to France in 1915. He was mentioned in dispatches four times, was 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 First Lecturer in Bacteriology in Matthew J. Stewart’s Department of Pathology at the University of Leeds, thus commencing an association of 33 years with the School of Medicine.

      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 an 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 – gravisintermedius and mitis – which he correlated with clinical severity. He died on 11 March 1978 at 92 years old.

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    • Henry J. Bunker

      Henry J. Bunker

      President 1952–1955

      Along with Marjory Stephenson and Paul Fildes, Henry Bunker was one of a small group that met together before 1940 to discuss the formation of the Society. When the Society was founded in 1945, Henry became its first Treasurer. As well as his term as Society President, 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.

      Henry Bunker (1897–1975) was born in London on 27 April 1897 and educated at St Olave’s Grammar School. He returned after World War I to St Catharine’s College, University of Cambridge, to take a degree with botany as the 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.

      During World War II, at the instigation of both the Medical Research Council and the armed forces, Henry worked as part of a group of scientists headed by A. C. Thaysen on a project to supersede cellulolysis and the sulfur bacteria. 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 was an influential and respected figure in the learned societies associated with microbiology. He was President of the Society for Applied Bacteriology, 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. He played an important part in the organisation of Brunel 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 died on 8 August 1975 at the age of 78.

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    • Sir Christopher Andrewes

      Sir Christopher Andrewes

      President 1955–1957

      Christopher Andrewes (1896–1987) 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, where he worked on the role of viruses in transmittable tumours in animals.

      Between 1930 and 1933, while working at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), Christopher and two other men, Patrick Laidlaw and Wilson Smith, researched and identified for the first time the human influenza virus, type A. From 1946 to 1960 they tried to isolate the virus in the laboratory.

      Christopher went on to found the World Health Organization's (WHO) World Influenza Centre based at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). He was Deputy Director of the NIMR from 1952 to 1961. Among the many academic honours he received were the Stewart Prize of the BMA, the Robert Koch Gold Medal, a honorary LLD from the University of Aberdeen and a honorary MD from the University of Lund. He was knighted in 1961. He died in 1987.

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    • Sir Ashley Miles

      Sir Ashley Miles

      President 1957–1959

      Arnold Ashley Miles (1904–1988) was born in York and read medicine at Kings College, Cambridge. As an undergraduate, he developed what proved to be a life-long interest in pathology. His clinical training at St Bartholomew’s Hospital, at a time when infection was rife and treatment almost entirely non-specific, centred his interest on the mechanisms in microbe and host which could account for the initiation of symptoms, their variety and for the outcome of infection.

      During World War II, the Medical Research Council (MRC), at the Government’s request, set up the War Wounds Committee to devise preventive methods, not only in the field and base hospitals but which would also be applicable to civilian hospitals that received 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 moved 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 at the University of London, appointments which he held until retirement in 1971. He is famous for his simple method of performing viable counts of bacteria and for his co-authorship of William W.C. Topley and Graham S. 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.

      In 1961, he was elected Fellow of the Royal Society, where he served on many 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 1953, he was appointed CBE and, in 1966, he was knighted. Sir Ashley Miles died a month before his 84th birthday in 1988.

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    • Sir Frederick C. Bawden

      Sir Frederick C. Bawden

      President 1959–1961

      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 Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge. While taking a Diploma in Agricultural Science he met Redcliffe N. 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 side-line, he experimented with infrared photography to show up necroses clearly.

      When Fred moved to Rothamsted Research 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.

      Fred became Director of Rothamsted Research in 1958. He 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 the 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. Honours he received included Fellowship of the Royal Society, the Research Medal of the Royal Agricultural Society and Honorary Life Membership of the New York Academy of Sciences. He died in 1972.

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    • Reginald Lovell

      Reginald Lovell

      President 1961–1963

      Reginald Lovell (1897–1972) was born on 2 January 1897 and was educated at The Thomas Hardye School, Dorchester. 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. 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 & Tropical Medicine, where he worked between 1927 and 1933. His work in Manchester had attracted the attention of William W.C. Topley, whose department he joined, for he had already gained a reputation as a bacteriologist as a result of his work on Salmonella. At the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine he became associated in work of considerable importance relating to penicillin.

      In 1933, Reginald 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 humans. 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.

      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 Microbiology Society, particularly as Honorary Treasurer during the period 1951–1961, and as President. He died in 1963.

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    • David W. W. Henderson

      David W. W. Henderson

      President 1963–1965

      David Willis Wilson Henderson (1903–1968) was born in Glasgow on 23 July 1903. He enrolled under J.F. Malcolm at the West of Scotland Agricultural College, where he graduated with Agricultural Bacteriology as his major subject 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. In 1934, he was awarded a PhD by the University of London for work on spore-bearing anaerobes.

      Soon after the outbreak of World War II 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 Station (now known as Porton Down), Porton, Wiltshire, which already had experience in handling toxic aerosols. 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. anthracisP. 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.

      In 1946, David was offered the post of Chief Superintendent of the Biological Research Establishment and accepted as Director, Microbiological Research Department at Porton. 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 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. 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. He died in 1968.

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    • Percy Wragge Brian

      Percy W. Brian

      President 1965–1967

      Percy Wragge Brian (1910–1979) was regarded as one of the most distinguished botanists of his time. He gained a first-class degree in the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge in 1931, was awarded the Frank Smart Studentship in Botany, and in 1936 gained a PhD for his 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, Percy joined Imperial Chemical Industries (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 saw the most prolific output 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.

      In recognition of his achievements in science he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1958, having been awarded the ScD of the University of Cambridge a little earlier. In 1962, Percy was appointed Regius Professor of Botany at the University of Glasgow. Characteristically, Percy 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 (ARC) he was able to set up a small unit for this work, and on his accepting the invitation to the Chair of Botany at Cambridge in 1968, the unit was transferred 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 ARC, 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. In 1975, he was honoured with a CBE for scientific services. He died in 1979.  

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    • Ernest Gale

      Ernest F. Gale

      President 1967–1969

      Ernest Gale (1914–2005) was born in Luton in 1967 and brought up in Weston-super-Mare. He made significant contributions 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 at the University of 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 Francis Crick and Jacques Monod to resolve. Instead, Ernest turned his attentions to the mode of action of antibiotics. His book The Molecular Basis of Antibiotic Action remains a classic text. Later he turned his attention to antifungals, 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 died in 2005.

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    • Sidney Elsden

      Sidney R. Elsden

      President 1969–1972

      Sidney Elsden (1915–2006) 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.

      Sidney spent his early years in Cambridge and, after attending the Cambridge and County School for Boys, entered Fitzwilliam House (now Fitzwilliam College), University of Cambridge, and graduated in 1936 with a double first in the Natural Sciences Tripos. Following a year of research in the University of 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 the University of Cambridge 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 at the University of Sheffield, heading a biochemistry-based sub-department within the Bacteriology Department. 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, bacteriophages 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. 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. Sidney died in 2006.

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    • Sir David G. Evans

      Sir David G. Evans

      President 1972–1975

      David Evans (1909–1984) was born in Atherton, near Manchester. In 1933 he graduated 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 the 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 died in 1984.

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    • Harry Smith

      Harry Smith

      President 1975–1978

      Harry Smith (1921–2011) was born in Northampton and educated at Northampton Grammar School. He 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 (now the University of Nottingham), when it was still an outpost of the University of London. His PhD involved the first chemical synthesis of a dinucleotide. In 1947 he moved to the Microbiology Section of the Chemical Defence Experimental Station (Porton Down). There he 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.

      A project on anthrax 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.

      He was awarded a CBE in 1993 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 in Los Angeles, Berkeley, Seattle and Ann Arbor in the US and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. As well as serving as President of the Microbiology Society from 1975 to 1978, he was also Treasurer and Meetings Secretary and an Honorary Member. The Society’s Harry Smith Vacation Studentships Grant is named in his honour. Harry died at the age of 90 on 10 December 2011.

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    • Peter L. Wildy

      Peter L. Wildy

      President 1978–1981

      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). Appointed to a Lectureship in Bacteriology there 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, Australia. 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 the University of Cambridge and then to the University of 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.

      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 on 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. At this time he also founded a new journalJournal of General Virology, with Colin Kaplan, which from its humble beginnings in 1967 became a well-established and well-regarded addition to the virology scene. In 1975, Peter moved to the Chair of Pathology at the University of Cambridge and became a fellow of Gonville and Caius College.

      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 Organization and a member of several governing bodies of research council institutes. Peter died from lung cancer in Papworth Hospital, Cambridge, on 10 March 1987 and was buried at Hinxton. The Peter Wildy Prize Lecture, named in his honour, is presented at the Society’s Annual Conference every year
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    • Roger Whittenbury

      Roger Whittenbury

      President 1981–1984

      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 the University of Edinburgh, and then on to the University of Warwick to take up the post of Professor of Biology.

    • John R. Postgate

      John R. Postgate

      President 1984–1987

      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 achieved First Class Honours in Chemistry from Balliol College, University of Oxford, followed by a DPhil for research in Chemical Microbiology. He later received a DSc from the University of Oxford.

      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 in 1965 and was its President from 1982 to 1984. He was Visiting Professor at the University of Illinois from 1962–1963 and at Oregon State University from 1977–1978. Other honours include Hon DSc, University of Bath, 1990; Hon LlD, University of Dundee, 1997; and Honorary Member of the Society for Applied Microbiology. He 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 edited several symposia over 30, and wrote 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. He died in 2014.

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    • Derek C. Burke

      Derek C. Burke

      President 1987–1990

      Derek Burke (1930–2019) 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 isolating novel nucleosides from a Caribbean sponge with arabinose as the pentose sugar. He returned to the UK and got a job at the National Institute for Medical Research from 1955 to 1960 working on influenza virus and interferon. He then worked at 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. He was a member, for many years, of the working parties responsible for clinical trials of interferon in the UK.

      In 1982, he moved 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. In addition to being President of the Microbiology Society from 1987 to 1990 he served on a number of scientific bodies: he was Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, a member of the Cancer Research Campaign Council and Chairman of the Council of the CRC Paterson Institute for Cancer Research. He was also Chairman of the Governing Council of the John Innes Centre from 1987–1995, and a member of the Science & Engineering Board and the Technology Interaction Board of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council from 1994–1997. From 1993–1995, he was a member of the Office of Science and Technology’s Technology Foresight Steering Group, was Chairman of Genome Research Limited, the body responsible for the governance of the Sanger Centre in Cambridge from 1997 to 1998, and was a member of the Governing Bodies of several Research Institutes, including the Institute for Food Research in Norwich from 1994 to 2002.

      Outside research, Derek was a Specialist Advisor to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology from 1995 to 2003, and a member of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics’ Working Party on the Genetic Modification of plants from1997–1999 and 2003–2004. He was a member of bodies concerned with ethical issues arising out of new science for both the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council from 2004–2007 and the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council from 2007–2010. Derek Burke was appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk in 1992, and awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List in 1994. He died on 15 March 2019.

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    • J. Rodney Quayle

      J. Rodney Quayle

      President 1990–1993

      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. 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. There, 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.

      Rod was Senior Lecturer and then Professor at Sheffield University, was appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bath in 1983 and Chaired the British National Committee for Microbiology from 1985–1990. 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 in 1989, Bath in 1992 and Sheffield in 1992. He died in 2006.

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    • J.G. Jones

      President 1993–1994

      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

      A. (Tony) P.J. Trinci

      President 1994–1997

      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.

      Professor Tony Trinci joined the Society in 1965. He is an expert in fungal cytology and physiology and was the first Chairman of the School of Biological Sciences. Trinci was a member of Council between 1979 and 1981. He later became an Editor of the Journal of General Microbiology (now Microbiology) in 1990 and held the position for four years. He was elected President of the Society in 1994 and awarded Honorary Membership in 2000.

    • Sir Howard Dalton

      Sir Howard Dalton

      President 1997–2000

      Howard Dalton (1944–2008) was born in New Malden, Surrey. 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 genus 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 genus Clostridium.

      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. Professor Roger Whittenbury persuaded Howard to take up a lectureship in Microbiology at the Department of Biological Sciences, University of 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.

      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 from 1999–2002 and held many positions at the University, dealing with academic matters and other areas of university life. 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. He died of a heart attack on 12 January 2008.

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    • David Hopwood

      David Hopwood

      President 2000–2003

      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 intermediates 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. 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, CA, US. 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.

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    • T. Hugh Pennington

      T. Hugh Pennington

      President 2003–2006

      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. Hugh said he felt enormously privileged to be Society’s 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. Hugh was elected FRSE in 1997 and FmedSci in 1998. In 2013, he received a CBE for services to microbiology and food hygiene.

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    • Robin A. Weiss

      Robin A. Weiss

      President 2006–2009

      Robin A. Weiss FRS is Senior Research Fellow and Emeritus Professor of Viral Oncology in the Division of Infection and 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 postdoctoral 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 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, D.C. Robin also held the post of President of the British Association of Cancer Research from 2001–2005.

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    • Hilary Lappin-Scott

      Hilary Lappin-Scott

      President 2009–2012

      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 at Calgary University before establishing her own research group at the University of Exeter, 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 posts or senior posts in multi-national businesses.

      Hilary joined the Society in 1984. She was elected to various Society committees and became Convener of the Environmental Microbiology Group in 1996. She was appointed the Scientific Meetings Officer in 2004 and introduced the present Division and theme structure of conference planning and organising. She was elected to the Society’s Council in 2000 and as President in 2009. Hilary was the second female President in the nearly seven decades of the Society’s history, after Marjory Stephenson over 60 years before. As President, she combined the leadership and figurehead roles to deliver unprecedented levels of change needed for the Society. Hilary also established the Microbiology Society Prize Medal (first awarded in 2009) and other initiatives to encourage young microbiologists. Uniquely, she held both the Microbiology Society Presidency and the Presidency of the International Society for Microbial Ecology (ISME) (for two terms, 2006–2010) simultaneously.

      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 is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, the Society of Biology and the European Academy of Microbiology.

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    • Nigel L. Brown

      Nigel L. Brown

      President 2012–2015

      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, University of 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. 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 four successful years at BBSRC, he was invited to be Head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of 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 Microbiology Society Policy Committee, producing the Society’s first position papers.

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    • Neil A.R. Gow

      Neil A.R. Gow

      President 2016–2018

      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 became a Professor of Microbiology and the Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Exeter in 2018.

      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).

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      Judith Armitage

      President 2019–2021

      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 the EMBO, a Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology, the Royal Society of Biology and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2013.


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      Gurdyal Besra

      President 2022–present

      Professor Besra joined the Society in 1999 and is Bardrick Professor of Microbial Physiology and Chemistry at the University of Birmingham where he heads a world-leading multidisciplinary team investigating key aspects of the microbial physiology of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis cell wall and the potential role of iNKT/CD1d therapeutics. Professor Besra is widely recognised for his contributions to science, including the Microbiology Society’s Unilever Colworth Prize (2016); the Biochemical Society Award (2008) and Morton Lecture (2020); the Jeremy Knowles Medal (2014) and Carbohydrate Award (2003) from the Royal Society of Chemistry. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2013 and a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2019.