The Professors of Microbiology in Trinity College Dublin
Microbiology as a scientific discipline in TCD emerged in the Department of Pathology with the creation of the Chair of Bacteriology and Preventive Medicine in 1919, only 35 years after the subject took off with the discoveries by Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur that bacteria were agents that could cause infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera.
The first Professor was Adrian Stokes (1919-1923) who made his reputation after he left Dublin by demonstrating that Yellow Fever is caused by a transmissible agent that could not then be cultivated in the laboratory like typical bacterial pathogens. Many years later it was discovered that the causative agent is a virus.
Joseph W. (‘Joe’) Bigger held the chair from 1924-1952. He built a strong international reputation for Bacteriology in TCD by publishing the first textbook suitable for medical students to learn about this important and rapidly changing discipline. Bigger's Handbook of Bacteriology was first published in 1925 and ran to 5 editions during Bigger's tenure of the Chair. Three further editions were written by Bigger's successor F.S. Stewart, the last being published in 1968. Joe Bigger's most important scientific contribution was most probably the discovery of the phenomenon of persistence, a name given to the fact that a small proportion of a population of bacterial cells always survives when treated with a lethal concentration of an antibiotic. During the Second World War Bigger took leave of absence from TCD and joined the Royal Army Medical Corps allowing him access to penicillin which was not then freely available. His discovery of ‘persisters’ was made when he was based in Northern Command in England and published in the Lancet in 1944. Persistence is of great interest to scientists today and much effort is being expended in trying to understand the mechanistic basis of this medically important phenomenon (Lewis, 2010).
After Bigger's untimely death, the university appointed F.S. ‘Stanley’ Stewart who held the chair from 1953 until he retired in 1975. Under Stewart's leadership the department expanded in size. The B.A. Moderatorship degree in Bacteriology, with its first graduate in 1947, was consolidated. During the 1960s the annual number of moderators increased gradually but remained in single figures. Several staff appointments were made to help teach the science students in addition to the commitment to medical students. In the early 1970s Stewart oversaw the Department's move from the Faculty of Medicine to the Faculty of Science. The name of the degree was changed to Microbiology to recognize the fact that the discipline encompassed many different types of microbes other than bacteria, as well as viruses. Stewart was very interested in serology and immunology. He published several papers in this new branch of microbiology and gave lectures on this topic to undergraduates. Today the study of pathogenic microbes on the one hand and how the host responds to them on the other is often referred to as a new discipline called Infection Biology.
Stanley Stewart was a true polymath. Before he studied medicine he was awarded a Gold medal Moderatorship in Philosophy. While a student he taught mathematics at his old school Wesley College. Stanley Stewart's wife was Melanie le Brocquy, an accomplished artist and sculptress who is best known for her bronzes. Her bust of Oscar Wilde in bronze is displayed in the entrance to the Smurfitt Institute of Genetics.
In 1976 a young Scotsman from Glasgow University, John Arbuthnott, was appointed to replace Stewart. The name of the Chair was changed Microbiology. Under Arbuthnott's stewardship the department expanded to its current strength of academic staff and the number of graduates increased to about 25. Arbuthnott had the vision to encourage the application of the emerging recombinant DNA technology to the study of bacterial pathogens and during this time several seminal papers were published which established the Department's international reputation (Kehoe et al, de Azavedo et al). John Arbuthnott left TCD in 1988, first to a chair in the University of Nottingham, and then he became Vice-Chancellor of Strathclyde University in Scotland.
From 1988-1994 the department was run by Associate Professor Cyril Smyth until the appointment of the current chair holder Charles Dorman. The Moderatorship was consolidated into its current form - a rigorous and well managed training in modern molecular microbiology overseen and validated by the most eminent external examiners from the UK.
Professor Charles Dorman's research on mechanisms of gene regulation in the Gram-negative model bacterium Escherichia coli and in the pathogenic bacteria Shigella and Salmonella enhanced the department's international reputation. He was instrumental in attracting Jay Hinton to apply successfully for a Stokes Professorship supported by Science Foundation Ireland. Jay was appointed to a personal chair as Stokes Professor of Microbial Pathogenesis in 2009 and has developed novel approaches to studying genetic switches in Salmonella.
One other full professorship is associated with the Microbiology Department. In 1997 Tim Foster was promoted to a personal chair (Professor of Molecular Microbiology) to acknowledge his internationally acclaimed research with the Gram positive pathogen Staphylococcus aureus . Foster was appointed in 1972 by Stanley Stewart. His early research was on antibiotic resistance but, encouraged by Arbuthnott, he changed fields in the early 1980s to staphylococci.
In 2009 the Department joined forces with the Department of Genetics to form the School of Genetics and Microbiology. With two groups in the Genetics Department studying microbes the discipline is flourishing with significant research income and a highly cited publication output. Microbiologists in TCD punch above their weight because according to information about the citation rate of papers Microbiology is ranked third in the College. Globally, Microbiology at TCD is ranked 123rd, ahead of Cambridge (125), Marburg (128), Halle (136), and ETH Zurich (137) all of which have very substantial reputations in the discipline.
Mention should also be made of the late Professor Harry Smith FRS, who had a long association with the Moyne Institute and some influence on appointment of professors. He was external examiner for the Moderatorship degree in the late 1960s. The author of this article recalls standing like a soldier on parade with the two other candidates as Professors Stewart and Smith emerged from the examiners' meeting in the library to be informed, with a shake of the hand, of the class of degree awarded. Harry Smith had a role in the appointment of John Arbuthnott by encouraging his application and for secondly acceptance of the position. Harry Smith had an important part to play in the appointment of Charles Dorman in 1994. He was one of the two external assessors and gave the committee the strongest possible recommendation to make the appointment.
The Moyne Institute
The Department of Bacteriology was originally housed in the building occupied by the Department of Pathology. Professor Bigger was able to secure funding for the University from the Guinness family to create a medical institute to commemorate the death of Walter Edward Guinness, the first Baron Moyne who was assassinated in Cairo, Egypt, in 1944. The eminent architect Desmond Fitzgerald, who designed the original terminal building at Dublin airport, was commissioned to design a building to occupy a corner of College Park next to the Pavilion. A ceremony was held in September 1950 where the daughter of Lord Moyne, The Honorable Grania Guinness laid the foundation stone. This was accompanied by a time capsule containing such contemporary items as malting barley, freeze-dried bacteria and a vial of penicillin. It was at this event that Professor Bigger announced that he would be retiring because of ill health. The Moyne Institute of Preventive Medicine was opened in May 1953 by Grania, by then the Marchioness of Normanby, some months after Bigger's death from leukaemia.
The building has a neo-classical appearance and is most imposing when viewed from across College Park. It has a truncated ‘Y’ shape with the two wings housing laboratories and offices. It has a distinctive copper-clad roof and the structural walls of reinforced concrete which rendered modifications particularly difficult for those working in the building at the time. Upon climbing the steps at the front one enters the memorial hall with a domed ceiling with impressive natural lighting. The floor is of white Sicilian marble. Double marble staircases ascend to the first floor of each wing while single marble staircases descend to the ground floor level. A lecture theatre with seating for up to 80 students is entered through two sets of swing doors on either side of the memorial plaque. This and the library are the only rooms in the building that are virtually unchanged since the opening in 1953.
The Moyne Institute has undergone several important changes, each paid for by the Normanby Trust. In 1963 a two floor extension to the south wing was opened which provided laboratory space for the Department of Social Medicine and increased the size of the undergraduate teaching laboratories. (Social Medicine under Professor Jessop was originally based in the Moyne but moved to St James's Hospital in 1973).
A similar extension to the north wing was opened in 1981 which provided substantial increase in research laboratory space, including containment facilities for handling dangerous pathogens and recombinant DNA.
The third modification was opened in 1994and extended the length of the north and south wings, allowing space for elevators and fires escapes and also expanded research laboratory space substantially by creating basement extensions to the two wings.
In 2012 extensive refurbishment to the research laboratories in the north wing was completed. This was part funding by the Normanby Trust. Almost 60 years after the building was opened, Grania, now the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby, accompanied by her son Constantine, the Marquess of Normanby, and two sons and a daughter of Bryan Guinness, the second Lord Moyne, visited the College to inspect the most recent changes. Provost Prendergast hosted lunch in the Provost's House and afterwards presented Lady Normanby with a bound copy of a specially commissioned poem entitled ‘Grania’ written by Iggy McGovern
The author would like to thank Professor Charles Dorman, Dr Gilbert Howe, Dr Georges Ware and Dr Ronnie Russell for help with the manuscript and Professor Charles Dorman, Dr Georges Ware and Melanie le Brocquy for providing photographs
de Azavedo JC, Foster TJ, Hartigan PJ, Arbuthnott JP, O'Reilly M, Kreiswirth BN, Novick RP. Expression of the cloned toxic shock syndrome toxin 1 gene ( tst ) in vivo with a rabbit uterine model. Infect Immun. 1985 50:304-9
Kehoe M, Sellwood R, Shipley P, Dougan G. Genetic analysis of K88-mediated adhesion of enterotoxigenic Escherichia coli . Nature. 1981 291:122-6.