When I was collecting material for the departmental archives, I had asked the staff to provide some information about themselves and suggested answering some questions:
* What was your academic background before joining the department?
* Why did yoy choose to join the department?
*.What do you consider your main achievement?
* Any outstanding events in the department during your time there?
* Any concluding comments?
Some of the staff did not reply, some answered the questions directly, some replied in their own way and some like David Jones gave a detailed reply that covered the broader picture with a critical analysis of the issues involved. This was typical of David's response to all things -- a fully professional approach to life.
Personal Memories of Microbiology -- David Jones
- Academic background prior to joining the Department of Microbiology
- Move to University of Cape Town
- Appointment to the Chair of Microbiology at the University of Otago
- Tenure as Head of the Department of Microbiology (1989-1995)
- University management structure
- Changes within the education science and health care sectors
- Subsequent changes to the University management structure
- Departmental structure within the Otago Medical School
- Challenges as the incoming Head of Department
- Staffing issues
- Financial issues
- Academic issues
- Research issues
- Personal teaching activities
- Personal research activities
- Personal professional activities
- New challenges
I gained my initial training as a microbiologist when I undertook a qualification in medical laboratory technology – initially majoring in general clinical pathology followed by a specialist diploma in microbiology. At this time I was employed by the University of Natal Medical School located in Durban, South Africa. During my initial training I first worked in a routine hospital laboratory associated with the medical school and subsequently transferred to a position in the Department of Medical Microbiology at the University. I was then appointed as a technical research officer at the Institute for Parasitology while undertaking an honours degree in Biological Sciences at the University of Natal.
I was subsequently appointed as a lecturer in microbiology in the Department of Biological Sciences and undertook a PhD in microbiology through Rhodes University. While finishing my doctorate I accepted a position at Rhodes as a senior research fellow. My original field of research was in medical microbiology with as focus on anaerobic bacteriology. During the period I was in the Microbiology Department at Rhodes University we were approached by National Chemical Products (NCP), a large South African chemical and industrial fermentation company, seeking assistance to help them deal with a phage infection which had decimated their commercial Acetone Butanol Ethanol (ABE) fermentation process. I became involved because of my experience with phages infecting anaerobic bacteria. This initial contact lead to the establishment of a research group at Rhodes University funded by NCP and its holding company Sentrachem to pursue a number of fundamental research areas with relevance to their industrial fermentation processes. I accepted appointment as the NCP/Sentrachem research group leader.
Move to University of Cape Town (top)
At the end of 1979 the then Head of the Department at Rhodes, Professor David Woods was appointed to the Chair of Microbiology at the University of Cape Town. This was a large, well-established department, but due to a set of unusual circumstance that included the retirement of a number of senior staff there were very few members of staff holding tenured positions at the time. This provided David Woods with a unique opportunity to offer positions to almost the entire team from Rhodes.
Very generous start-up funding from UCT enabled us to establish well equipped, state-of-the-art facilities for microbial genetics, anaerobic microbiology and biotechnology. With the move to Cape Town our industrially funded research groups underwent a major expansion and it proved to be an exciting and productive time for our research. I was appointed as a senior lecturer and a few years later I was promoted to associate professor, but still continued in my role as the NCP/Sentrachem research group leader.
During this period we worked closely with the company’s research and development department and I was able to spend quite extensive periods working at the plant which provided me with hands on experience with the industrial ABE fermentation process. South Africa was one of the last countries in the western world to continue to run the ABE process which was initially developed during WW I for the production of munitions. This unique experience stood me in very good stead for my continuing involvement in this complex, fascinating and challenging fermentation. The main focus of the research group at UCT was on the improvement of solvent-producing clostridial strains through genetic and physiological manipulation and improvements in fermentation process technology. The group also undertook research on industrial enzymes and yeast used for ethanol production.
Appointment to the Chair of Microbiology at the University of Otago (top)
During the period 1984/1985 a spent a year sabbatical study leave as a visiting fellow at Oxford University. During this time I worked in the laboratory of Professor Joel Mandelstam, who was one of the world leaders in the genetics of sporulation. This proved to be a very productive year for me as I was involved with the development of a phage cloning vector which subsequently enable the majority of the genes know to be involved in sporulation to be cloned and sequenced. Professor Mandelstam had previously acted as a referee for my promotion to Associate Professor and as a result, he had a copy of my CV. In 1987 (which was the year he retired) he was asked to act on a UK search committee for the chair in Microbiology at Otago by Sir Robin Irvine who was the VC at that time. He took it upon himself to put my name forward for the position as I was travelling in Europe on conference leave at the time. When I met up with him at his retirement function he told me that he had submitted an application on my behalf and that obviously I could withdraw this if I was not interested.
At this time I had been appointed as the acting head of the Microbiology Department at the University of Cape Town as David Woods had accepted promotion to one of the Deputy Vice Chancellor position at UCT. At the beginning of 1988 I was invited to come to New Zealand to interview for the position at Otago. The interviews for the position of Head of Department at UCT were held two weeks later. David Woods and I worked closely together as colleagues and were also good personal friends and I knew that he was very keen for me to take over the department that he had been so successful at building up. As I had already served for a year as the acting head of department I felt that there was a very strong likelihood that I would be a strong contender for the position at UCT. Before I departed from my interview visit to New Zealand I was offered the position at Otago. This created a real dilemma as there seemed to be no point in going through with the appointment process at UCT if my decision was to accept the position at Otago. In effect I had less than two weeks to make a decision.
After weighing up all of the factors, we as a family decided to accept the position in New Zealand. On this basis, I withdrew my application for the post advertised at UCT. My obligation to work out my notice coupled with the complexities of emigrating from South Africa to New Zealand at that time meant that I was only able to take up my new appointment in February of 1989.
During 1987 and 1988 Sandy Smith served was as the acting head of department at Otago.
Tenure as Head of the Department of Microbiology (1989-1995) (top)
One of the main factors that attracted me to the position at Otago was that I saw this as offering a greater challenge for me personally than the appointment at UCT. At the time the department at UCT was the premier microbiology department in the country with an excellent international reputation. It was well organised, well funded and had been very well lead. The challenge as the incoming head of the department would have been trying to maintain the department in this position when there were already strong indications that circumstances both at UCT and in South Africa generally would make this increasingly difficult to achieve. My impression of the department at Otago at this time was that it had been through a long period of stability but to some extent had lost direction since the retirement of John Loutit as Head of Department. I was very impressed with quality of both the academic staff and the general staff in the Department but felt that the Department as a whole was not achieving its full potential and the recognition it clearly deserved.
My arrival coincided with a period of major change in New Zealand society and politics with particularly rapid changes taking place in the education, science and the health care sectors. The University of Otago had been through a period of sustained growth leading to an increased complexity and this had begun to impinging on the way the University was being managed and organised. Taking up the appointment as HOD was a daunting challenge for me personally as the academic staff in the department included five well established senior academic staff with a similar status to my own. It therefore seemed obvious to me that although I had been appointed to lead the department a consensus style of management would be required to achieve the necessary buy-in and support to bring about the changes that I considered needed to be made to allow the department to achieve its potential.
University management structure (top)
It did not take long to discover that the way that OU was run and managed differed in a number of significant aspects from the institutions that I had been acquainted with in South Africa. From my perspective the management style in operation at Otago at the time was tailored to a small elitist academic institution run along the lines of a close-knit family business, with the boss (VC) very much in charge. It also seemed apparent to me that this management style, that had obviously worked very successfully when the university had been small and more intimate, was starting to encounter some difficulties. The reason for this were both internal and external. Internally the University had expanded in both size and complexity. This had lead to divisionalization and greater diversification within the University. The significant expansion in student and staff numbers meant the informal top-down management approach with few standard operational processes, that had worked effectively in the passed, were proving inadequate in the new climate.
Changes within the education, science and healthcare sectors (top)
Externally the rapid shift to an open free market economy in NZ had a major flow on effect for the universities. Funding of universities moved to an EFT based funding model with student fees becoming and increasingly import component. The science sector was restructured on a competitive business model, the old DSIR was disestablished and a number CRI’s were established in its place and funding for science became contestable. Hospitals were also re-cast as business units that were expected to make a profit. This new model made no provision for the funding of medical research or teaching. This coincided with the old MRC that had been responsible for the funding of medical research being abolished and a new HRC set up in its place. Accompanying this was a strong focus by government on establishing a competitive environment with increased accountability and compliance within the university sector.
Subsequent changes to the University management structure (top)
Sir Robin retired from the position of VC and Graham Fogelberg was appointed in his place. He appointed two deputies from Australia. At this time the universities in NZ voluntarily established an internal quality audit program, that involved a rigorous internal self review process, to avoid pre-empt the government imposing a more rigorous accountability and auditing process. The combination of these extensive and rapidly introduced changes and the associated greatly enhanced processes that ensued had a demoralising effect on the university, science and health care sectors. Not surprisingly, within the university, these changes had huge flow down effect through the divisions and schools to individual departments.
Departmental structure within the Otago Medical School (top)
At the time I took up my appointment in the Department of Microbiology it was just one of several dozen departments of disparate sizes making up the Otago Medical School. Departmental funding came in the form of a confidential, annual, top-down allocation which was barely sufficient to meet the basic costs of teaching. Staffing salaries were paid for, and staffing appointments made via the Otago Medical School. The securing of funding to undertake research was basically the responsibility of individual staff members to obtain from whatever limited sources of external funding that was accessible at this time. There was no centralised research infrastructure or funding support within the University or the Division and only limited support was available from the Otago Medical School. Applications for the contestable funding of capital equipment were handled centrally though a small committee consisting of long serving senior academics. Health and safety and bio-safety and bio-security was left up to individual department and was of a very rudimentary nature or in some instances non-existent. The running of the department finances was in the hands of the aged storeman. About 15% of the departmental expenditure could be accounted for in detail with the remainder simply disappear down a black hole with little or no control or information on what it had been used for. General staffing matters were mainly an internal responsibility dealt with via the chief technician while processes for academic staffing and leave were mostly of an informal nature. Promotions were handled at the School level while senior promotions were dealt with by the VC with input from his advisory committee.
Challenges as the incoming Head of Department (top)
During the first few years there were a daunting range of challenges and issues to be addressed. Rather than rushing in an making immediate, sweeping changes I made a conscious decision to move more slowly and put my effort into first dealing with the most pressing issues. During my first year, to a large extent I maintained the status quo while I got to grips with how the system worked at the departmental, school, divisional and central university levels.
It seemed to me that it would be counterproductive and detrimental to try and tackle all of the issues head-on at the same time. I outlined the approach that I intended to take to the department, which was to prioritize those aspects and systems in most need of revision and focus on those first. Those areas that were working reasonably well could be left for a later time to be worked through systematically. My approach has always been to try and do things properly and to avoid tinkering or making, ad hoc changes unless these are absolutely necessary. As a consequence the changes and upgrades to the departmental systems essentially took five years to work though.
Staff issues (top)
One of the most immediate challenges involved staffing promotions. A lesson learn from experience and reinforced by my mentors is that good staff are the key to success. If a department can appoint and retain top quality academic and general staff then quality research and teaching follows automatically. Three senior academics, Frank Griffin, Gerald Tannock and John Tagg were all log-jammed for promotion to Associate Professor. Their cases for promotion were being compromised by competing against each other. The solution prove to be to establish an order of priority which enabled all three to receive their long overdue promotion over the next three years. The retirement of Mani Pillai followed by that of professor Margaret Loutit provided opportunity to make valuable new appointments. These were Clive Ronson and Jurgen Thiele. The ability to make limited term assistant lecture appointments coupled with the resignation of Bruce enabled the recruitment of additional staff that included Glenn Buchan and Vernon Ward. Other later appointments to assistant lecture positions included. Robin Simmonds and Heather Brooks.
Financial issues (top)
A second major challenge involved securing sufficient flexible funding to make changes and implement new developments needed to build up the departmental infrastructure and equipment. Adequate funding was also required to support research and postgraduate teaching. One of the immediate challenges was to put in place financial management system to manage the departmental finances. I devised a system that fitted my responsibilities as HOD and financial services were very helpful and supportive in implement the system This lead to the appointment of departments first financial administrator Ronnie Bell. The timing proved to be very fortuitous as shortly after the University changes to a budget driven allocation model. The new system provided all the information needed for the new funding model and as a result the annual budget almost doubled. Widespread budget inflation practices by departments across the university soon resulted in a shift to EFT based formulae funding. The bulk EFT funding model implemented by government to fund universities was never intended for internal use and Otago was the only university that elected to implement this as it internal funding model. This policy had many adverse effects as it led to cut-throat competition between the newly established cost centres to maintain and increase their EFT numbers at the expense of others. It did have the positive advantage of being transparent and providing competitive drivers to improve performance. The introduction of contestable research funding at the national level also had a similar effect. This generated enhanced research productivity until demand greatly outstripped the amount of funding available and individual success rates drop to levels that became little more than a lottery.
Academic issues (top)
At the time of taking up appointment the academic sciences courses in the department had not been updated for some time with mainly ad hoc changes made to the original design. In particular the practical course had languished and no longer had a coherent structure. A programme was implemented to upgrade the undergraduate lecture courses and practical classes with the aim of improving course ratings and recruiting more students. The structure of the honours course was also revamped with the specific aim building up research student numbers. The fact that many of these changes were already well underway by the time EFT based funding was introduced positioned the department to compete effectively in the new environment. A second area of attention was the duplication of teaching at the undergraduate level. In particular this entailed building bridges with Biochemistry in to avoid overlap in the teaching of molecular and microbial genetics and microbial biochemistry and physiology. This initiative led to the introduction of an interdisciplinary course in genetics which was eventually expanded into a full academic programme. There were a number of other academic initiatives that the department was actively involved in including the introduction of a first year health science course that had to be taken at Otago. A new four year interdisciplinary programme in Medical Laboratory Science was established and of a distance taught postgraduate programme in Biotechnology was introduced. During this period the teaching of microbiology and immunology to medical, pharmacy and dental students underwent major revisions.
Research issues (top)
During this time a number of initiatives to help strengthen research in the department were also implemented. These included strengthening the links with the virus research unit and the Deer Research Laboratory. The establishment of a university wide Centre for Gene Research that included a service section that included DNA sequencing service and other molecular genetic technologies. The department had a number of expensive specialised support services and facilities that included a fully equipped workshop and EM unit that were not being fully utilised. The department was involved in a series of negotiations that lead to the establishment of communal services to replace these. The replacement of old equipment and the provision of new equipment was greatly improved by including this in the department budget with only very large items of equipment remaining contestable and the university level. Improvements in the organization and accountability of the general staff were introduced and improvements and upgrades of student and staff health and safety procedures and biological compliance practices were also implemented. One area that remained a problem was funding for research and postgraduate teaching. The EFT based funding model made no provision for research and with the introduction of the full cost recovery policy for research that taking on of valuable marginally funded research grants were discouraged by the central university. However, despite these stringent limitations research output of the department showed a significant increase and postgraduate student number continued to grow. The good social atmosphere that prevailed in the department no doubt played a significant role in attracting and recruiting students.
Personal teaching activities (top)
During the initial period while major changes were being made to the undergraduate microbiology courses I took on quite a large teaching load. As part of the restructuring I taught a wide range of topic that included bacterial structure, function and systematics, microbial physiology, molecular biology and genetics, applied and industrial microbiology and contribution to the teaching on microbiology to pharmacy students. As time went on my teaching commitments reduced and my teaching became focused in the areas of microbial gene regulation and biotechnology. In particular I enjoyed developing the case based teaching approach in the biotechnology course.
Personal research activities (top)
In hindsight, I think that I should have put more time and effort early on into establishing my own research base instead of putting most of my energy and effort into dealing with the broader challenges and issues. A circumstance that prevailed at that time did not assist in this regard. There were no formal establishment or start-up grants and research funding was hard to come by. I was provided with adequate funding to buy the equipment required for my research but it took a full year while the equipment was ordered, purchased and installed before my laboratory became operational. In the mean time I was limited to writing up papers on research undertaken at UCT. I made the decision to continue with my main area of research which was the solvent-producing clostridia used in the industrial acetone butanol fermentation process. I was warned that research funding would be difficult to obtain in this area but this was the area that I had become established in internationally. I should have pushed for more support to enable me to get my research established but funding at the time was very tight. The initial area of research that was undertaken focused on a study of effects of phage infections in the industrial fermentation process and involved the characterization of a number of lytic, lysogenic and defective temperate bacteriophages. An investigation of phage host ranges served to confirm that the taxonomy of the solvent-producing clostridia confused and incorrect. Later research encompassed the molecular taxonomy, phylogeny and characterization of the solvent-producing clostridia. This lead on to genetic mapping of the newly established Clostridium saccharobutylicum species and an investigation into the comparative genomic structures of the four major species of industrial solvent-producing clostridia. Comparative fermentation studies and studies on lytic degeneration in industrial solvent-producing strains were also undertaken.
Personal professional activities (top)
I joined the NZ Microbiology Society and served on the committee and I was also one of the founder members of the NZ Biotechnology Association and later served a term as president. I was also involved in the establishment of BioSouth biotechnology cluster. Being somewhat of an outsider, I never really felt comfortable in the national professional science arena. The majority of my professional activities were in the area of international science. I served as an IUMS representative on both the Bacteriology and Applied Microbiology Division and the International Committee of Systematic Bacteriology. I also served on the advisory board for the International Clostridium Workshops on the regulation of metabolism, genetics and development of solvent and acid producing clostridia. I was a member of the International Commission for Genetics of Industrial Microbiology, the international scientific board for GIM symposia and the editorial board of Trends in Biotechnology.
New challenges (top)
During the second half of 1994 I was granted a six month sabbatical leave. On my return I was looking forward to expanding my research activities. At this time there had been a growing dissatisfaction amongst the heads of the five preclinical departments with the structure of the Otago Medical School and we established an informal group to look after our specific interests. This culminated in changes being made to the structure which resulted in the establishment of three clinical schools of medicine and the Otago School of Medical Sciences within the Faculty of Medicine. It never entered my mind to apply for the position of dean and I served on the initial selection committee. Both an external and internal candidate were short listed but in the end it was decided not to make an appointment. It came as a complete surprise when I was summonsed by VC and DVC and asked if I would consider taking on the position. Opportunities like this only come once and although I had reservations I decided to accept the position. I stood down as head of department at end of 1995 and Sandy Smith was appointed to take my place I took up the position as Dean from beginning of 1996 and served in this role for eleven years until my retirement at the beginning of 2007. During this time I retained my appointment as a professor in microbiology and continued with some teaching and research, although it became increasingly difficult to meet these commitments as time went by.
David summarized many of the significant changes that occurred within the University and the Department in the 1990's. We were very fortunate to have his leadership during that time. He was like an Old Testament prophet leading the way through the chaos and change that was occurring around us. Not being part of the local, inbred, university culture, he was able to see the bigger picture and implement policies and strategies that made Microbiology a preeminent department at the University. It challenged, in a friendly way, the position that Professor Petersen and the Biochemistry department had previously held.
Among the important factors was the doubling of the departmental budget brought about by a change in the funding model for EFTS and the estimate of the actual costs of running the courses. The budget proposals were managed by Ronnie Bell, our financial advisor who came from the commercial world. She didn't last long: she was subsequently snapped by the Registry to assist in their financial woes, but she did us a great favour. The other main factor was the revamping of the practical microbiology classes in the 2nd and 3rd years -- they became more of a hands-on fun to learn set of practical exercises which explored the microbial world around us. Also at this time we happen to have a very social group of postgraduate students (more about this later) who were the tutors and demonstrators for these courses. They gave the overall message that Microbiology was a fun place to be. This word-of-mouth communication meant that many bright and able students were attracted to take postgraduate study in the Department.
2010 - Commemorative unveiling of David Jones' portrait
DAVID JONES' INVOLVEMENT WITH THE INDUSTRIAL ACETONE BUTANOL FERMENTATION
"My initial involvement with the industrial Acetone Butanol Ethanol (ABE) fermentation process began in 1977 when a South African chemical and fermentation company, National Chemical Products (NCP), approached the Microbiology Department at Rhodes University for assistance. This company had been operating a commercial ABE fermentation plant since 1935 and they were experiencing recurrent problems with phage infections at the factory. At this time my research interests had been focused on the developmental biology and sporulation in Bacillus and subsequently on the genetics of obligate anaerobic bacteria of medical importance, including some studies on phages.
National Chemical Products plant
We were able to assist the company with their problem and this led to them, funding some contract research on phages, bacteriocins and autolysins. This resulted in the NCP and their holding company Sentrachem, deciding a fund a research group at Rhodes University and in 1979 I was appointed as NCP/Sentrachem Research Group Leader. At the beginning of 1980 almost the entire department at Rhodes transferred to the University of Cape Town (UCT). I was appointed to the position as the Deputy Director of the Genetics & Industrial Microbiology Research Unit and the NCP/Sentrachem Research Group Leader. Subsequently, I was promoted to Associate Professor.
In addition to programs on yeast and industrial enzyme, the program on the solvent-producing clostridia was focused on developing of genetic systems for stain improvements. This included the development of gene transfer and protoplast fusion systems as well as the cloning and sequencing solvent pathway, cellulase and nitrogen uptake genes. The second major focus was on developmental biology, sporulation, metabolic regulation and the use of developmental pathway mutants for fermentation. We also had projects on nitrogen uptake and regulation - sugar uptake, fermentation optimisation and strain characterisation. The earlier work on bacteriophages, lytic systems, autolysis and strain degeneration was also continued.
In conjunction with Chemical Engineering Dept. at UCT we undertook work on continuous fermentation and cell immobilisation systems and the use of genetically modified strains for fermentation. We co-operated closely with the NCP Research and Development Division on projects that included nutrient requirements, alternative substrates and fermentation optimisation. We also assisted the NCP factory with the various problems they encountered, including stuck fermentations, bacteriophage and bacterial infections. I was very fortunate that this involved me spending time at the NCP plant. In Germiston that enable me to gain valuable hands-on experience with the large scale industrial fermentation process.
During my time at UCT I also became Involved with the French National IFP Programmes for the production of butanol as a fuel blending agent, as well as South African National Programme for the conversion of biogasses to ethanol and ABE.
Another piece of good fortune was that the Head of Department, David Woods, and I were invited by Microbiological Reviews to write a major review to be entitled, Acetone Butanol Fermentation Revisited. David took over a most of the responsibility of running the group while I spent almost 6 months tracking down, abstracting and collating scientific and engineering papers relating to the ABE fermentation. The aim was to try and cover every publication in the field that existed up until that time. This review subsequently became the main benchmark publication in the field and has been cited hundreds of times in scientific publications as well as numerous times in technical reports and articles. (The review is available here: Butanol revisited.)
A large amount of the research on the ABE process had been undertaken during the first half of the 20th century but had tapered off after the industrial process had been phased out in most western countries after WW2 due to competition from petrochemical processes. At the time of writing the review the number of groups working in the field was quite modest and we were able to establish personal contact with virtually every group. This led to the setting up of an international meeting for all those involved. This was a great success and resulted in the setting up of the Clostridium International Workshops on the Genetics of Solvent Producing Clostridia, which have continued to be held every two years right up to the present time. I was able to attend all of these meetings and the members of the community established long standing friendships that resulted in collaborations and the exchange of information, strain and materials. This facilitated the movements of students, postdocs and the appointment of external examiners and referees. These international links lead to my involvement with the International Commission for Genetics of Industrial Microbiology, the Scientific Advisory Board GIM International Symposia and the Editorial Board of Trends in Biotechnology.
At the end of 1988 I left UCT to take up the appointment of Professor in the Department Microbiology at Otago and served as Head of Department for seven years. At Otago research was focused on clostridial bacteriophage and bacteriocin biology, the molecular taxonomy and phylogeny of solvent-producing strains and species, along with genomic mapping and comparative genomics. During this period my group maintained links with the engineering group in Vienna lead by Richard Gapes and fermentation technology group at Massey University led by Ian Maddox.
After NCP closed their process I was able to acquire both the strains and a large amount of archival material, including the origin of the strains, specifications and production data etc. As part our project on the molecular taxonomy and phylogeny of solvent-producing strains and species I was able to acquire examples of virtually all of the strains of the solvent-producing clostridia lodged in all of the major international culture collections world wide. This resulted in me assembling the largest and most comprehensive strain collection of solvent producing clostridia in existence.
In 1996 I was appointed as the Dean of the School of Medical Sciences and served in the position for the next eleven years. During this time I continued as a Professor in the Department and managed to maintain a small research group, although funding to continue with ABE research continued to be increasingly difficult to come by. Although the results of our research were reported at international scientific meetings it is with great regret that much of this work was never submitted for publication.
When my term as Dean came to an end at the beginning of 2007 I was now at the nominally retirement age of 65. The eleven years in the Dean's job had been quite demanding and stressful. At this point both my previous postdocs had departed and the department was very short of accommodation and I had become distanced from the students so decided that I did not want to go back to a position in the Department. As there was no one in the department that was remotely interested in Clostridium or my culture collection the question was what was to become of it.
Things suddenly took a new direction half way through 2006 when there was a resurgence in interest in the ABE fermentation process. Due to my specific background and experience I was contacted by a number of companies and the next few years were something of a roller coaster that involved a number of consulting and scientific advisory appointments with the following companies.
* DuPont - Wilmington, USA
* Lanzatec - Auckland, New Zealand
* Bayer/LanXess - Leverkusen, Germany
* LanXess - Sarnia, Canada
* Gevo - Pasadena, USA
* Aquaflow Bionomics - Nelson, New Zealand
* H-C Sucroqumica - Campos, Brazil
* Green Biologics - Didcot, UK
* NCP Alcohols - Durban, South Africa
* Green Biologics, UK and Butylfuel - Columbus, USA
Through consulting involvements with Gevo and Lanzatech I agreed to concede commercial rights for the use of the culture collection which was to be maintained as an independent scientific collection with free access to all who want to use strains for legitimate scientific research. On the surface this seemed to be a sensible and satisfactory arrangement, but in reality the scientific community found it extremely difficult to gain access to the collection.
At this time both Gevo and Lanzatech changed direction and I was asked by Gevo to meet with people from Green Biologics (GBL) in the UK as potential partners. There was a natural fit with GBL and with their agreement I terminated my consulting contracts and transferred my contract to GBL in 2008. I have been involved with them as a scientific adviser ever since.
I also had a unique opportunity to become involved with the commissioning of a new ABE plant that had been built in Brazil by a privately owned sugar company (HC-Sucroqumica – (2007-2010). They contacted me because they could not get their process to work. I spent three extended periods working in Brazil and providing assistance and I was able to get the commercial process working successfully for them. It was a great opportunity to be able to apply the knowledge from both my research and my previous practical experience with an industrial scale ABE plant NCP. I also gained a huge amount of new experience and knowledge and the family were a delight to work with.
In 2009 I spent a short sabbatical working at the GBL facility in Dicot and I also travelled to China with them as part of their involvement with existing and new ABE plants which had started up. Just prior to this, I have continued my association as scientific and technical adviser to Green Biologics, UK and USA. Recently I spent time in the US advising them on their pilot scale, demonstration scale and full production scale ABE plants. These developments have led to the conversion of a large commercial ethanol distillery in the US which is now producing butanol and acetone using modified strains and modern state-of-the-art process technology.