Last modified Hyd 3ydd, 2011. Maintained by G.W. Griffith, Prifysgol Aberystywth

A history of microbiology at Aberystwyth University

(with thanks to Emeritus Professors Mike Young and Gareth Morris FRS CBE)

Microbiology in UCW Aberystwyth was parented by the then Dept of Botany headed by the distinguished plant physiologist Philip Wareing FRS.  The Department under its previous Head Prof Lilly Newton, had acquired a formidable reputation for its research and teaching in Phycology (both marine & freshwater) - a reputation maintained by Don Boney (later Professor in Glasgow University) and Alvin Jones.  Dr Irene Wilson, a noted fungal taxonomist was succeeded by Dr John Hedger from the University of Cambridge, whilst Dr Muriel Rhodes-Roberts who had been a member of the pioneering Department of Microbiology in Reading University ensured that Bacteriology was also rigorously taught in a notably practical-based syllabus.

In 1971 Professor J. Gareth Morris CBE FRS took up his appointment to the newly established Chair of Microbiology, a position he held with great distinction until his retirement in 2000. He published extensively on the physiology of the clostridia and wrote an extremely successful text book, A Biologists Physical Chemistry, published in 1974. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1988 and served as a member of the Universities Funding Council (dates) and the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (dates). Professor Morris was awarded the CBE for his services to science in 1994. Over the next few years the Department became widely recognised for its work on the physiology and biochemistry of anaerobic bacteria and during this period he established a nucleus of young scientists around him.

Professor Morris’ remit on appointment was to institute an Honours Degree Course in Microbiology in what then became the Joint Botany & Microbiology Department. The Single Honours Microbiology degree course was soon thriving and became notable for the breadth of its coverage/syllabus and its especial emphasis on laboratory-based practical work and extensive field courses. In the course of time, a Joint Honours degree in Zoology/Microbiology was established to link with the expertise in parasitology within the then Department of Zoology.  Both these degree are still offered more than thirty years later.  A key element of the microbiology experience at Aberystwyth has been the Gregynog Aber-Cardiff gatherings, which will be remembered by many former students and staff with great fondness.

The emergence of microbiology as a discrete discipline, led to new appointments, the first being Dr Ifor Beacham, a bacterial geneticist from the University of Leicester and when in 1977 he emigrated to a post in Australia, his successor was Dr Michael Young from the University of Oxford. Professor Young, has remained in Aberystwyth until his recent retirement in 2011 (excepting a year spent in Paris), witnessing the multi-stage morphogenesis of the Department of Botany and Microbiology into the current Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences. Initially, his research team developed gene transfer methods for Gram-positive bacteria and a highlight of this period was the discovery of chromosomal gene amplification, which underpins European industrial enzyme production. More recently he has focussed on bacterial endospore formation and dormancy and on a family of growth-promoting proteins discovered in Aberystwyth that are widely distributed throughout the actinobacteria. Their vaccine potential is currently being evaluated by the Aeras Global TB Vaccine Foundation. Most recently he has been involved in the Robot Scientist project within the computational biology group led by Prof Ross D King in the Computer Science Department. Professor Young took over from Professor Kell as Director of Research of the Institute of Biological Sciences from 2002-2007.

Then followed Douglas B Kell, postdoctoral fellow and then SERC advanced fellow (1978-1983) in the Department, who was appointed to a “New Blood” lectureship in 1983. He remained in Aberystwyth for 19 years and made a very prominent contribution to the research activity of the then Institute of Biological Sciences, serving as Director of Research for the last five years. His catholic interests embraced a wide range of problems, initially in bioenergetics and (commercialised) instrument development. Along with several protejees including Roy Goodacre (Wellcome Fellowship from 1995, appointed to a lectureship in 1999) and Mike Winson, Douglas pioneeed studies in metabolomics (PyMS, FTIR, Raman), flow cytometry and bioinformatics. In 2002 he moved to a Research Chair in Bioanalytical Sciences in Manchester where he continued to pursue his interests in bioanalytical chemistry and metabolomics. He has played a prominent part in shaping the Systems Biology agenda of the BBSRC and spent a period on BBSRC Council (2001-2006) before he was appointed as its CEO in 2008.

John Hedger, came to Aberystwyth in 1970? as lecturer in Mycology and together with Alvin Jones (see above) provided a distinctively environmental and ecological flavour to teaching and research in Microbiology during the 1980s and 1990s prior to his departure in 1995 to a Chair in Tropical Mycology at the University of Westminster. He travelled extensively to the tropics, including extended periods working in Java and in Ecuador, researched fungal diseases of cocoa and collected an extensive library of tropical forest fungi. His other interests included Dutch elm disease, fungal fermented foods and tropical fungi as sources of natural products. Upon the retirement of Dr. Rhodes-Roberts, the environmental flavour of the microbiology research was also augmented by Dr. Lesley Manchester (1992?-2004).

The Microbiology Group as a whole however has always taken its greatest pleasure from the very many Honours graduates, PhD students and Post-Doctoral Fellows who thereafter employed and expanded upon the skills that they had acquired to distinguish themselves by uniquely contributing to the advancement of the discipline.


Please find below various scanned pdf files which you may find interesting.

(with thanks to Dr. Hazel Davey and Emeritus Professor Mike Young for supplying the originals)

Biology Building (The opening of Adeilad Edward Llwyd in 1960)

Microbiology Seminar Series (from Autumn 1988-Spring 1994)


Add detail/photo from David Wynn-Williams and Cynan Ellis-Evans - photos from 1970 (Iceland -Tony Pugh)