The Microbiology Society (formally known as the Society for Microbiology) has had a number of prominent and distinguished presidents in its history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Co-Director for research at the centre's Medical Mycology section. Neil is a fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, Institute of Biology, Royal Society of Edinburgh, and American Academy of Microbiologists. He is a former President of the British Mycological Society as well as the International Society for Human and Animal Mycology (ISHAM).