Our great friend and colleague, Professor Naresh Magan, an academic at Cranfield University specialising in applied mycology, has passed away aged 69. Naresh was a hugely productive scientist, authoring close to 400 scientific articles over his career and supervising more than 75 PhD and 100 MSc students.
Scientists are sometimes portrayed as introverts lacking interpersonal skills, but Naresh was nothing of the sort. He was an outgoing and engaging person who was great fun to work with. What is more, each of us can recall occasions when Naresh went above and beyond what might be expected of a supervisor, colleague, or collaborator. For example, he open-heartedly helped his research students as mentor, friend, and academic father-figure. This help not only took the form of academic tuition; he also inspired confidence, giving reassurance if there were anxieties, and provided career mentorship whenever needed, even after people had left his research group.
Naresh and his ex-group members invariably maintained contact and remained friends over the years or decades since they passed through his group. For overseas students, Naresh would introduce them to relevant services that would help them and their families to settle, and he would never turn down an invitation to celebrate their milestone events such as a new baby and birthdays. Naresh was in these ways, and more, an open book and also a man of the people.
Much of Naresh’s research focused on spoilage fungi in foodstuffs. He showed how the production of toxins by fungi can be prevented (or minimised) by altering the storage conditions of animal feeds and human foods, and how electronic ‘noses’ can be used to sniff out patterns of volatile compounds produced by spoilage fungi in foods. His wide-ranging scientific interests extended to the biological control of insect pests and fungal pathogens on crop plants, post-harvest decay of feeds and foods, other aspects of food security, bioremediation of polluted sites, aerobiology, climate change, and even astrobiology. Naresh researched the ecology of fungi, such as their responses to acid rain and climate change, in ecosystems ranging from the tropics to Antarctica. Although chiefly an applied biologist, he was also an adept mathematician.
Naresh was born in Cape Town, South Africa, in July 1953. Of Gujarati descent, he came alone to the UK to study for his A levels and then went to the University of Exeter, where he took a BSc (Honours) degree in Botany, which he was awarded in 1976. He stayed at Exeter to take a one-year M.Sc. degree in Plant Pathology, then went on to study fungi inhabiting wheat grain during his Ph.D. research, supervised by John Lacey at Rothamsted Research Station (now Rothamsted Research). He was awarded his doctorate from the University of Reading in 1982, then worked as a postdoctoral scientist (1982–1986), first at Rothamsted, where he researched the toxins produced by fungi in cereals, and then at the Glasshouse Crops Research Institute at Littlehampton, where he worked on the use of fungi and bacteria as biocontrol agents for soil-borne plant diseases with Jim Lynch.
In 1986, Naresh began a post at Cranfield University as a Lecturer where he forged a large and vibrant research group, the Applied Mycology Group, that was supported by numerous funding agencies, including the UK Research Councils, the British Council, and the European Union. He was promoted to Senior Lecturer in 1993 and was quickly appointed first to Reader in 1997 and then to Professor in Applied Mycology in 1999. From 2007, he held a series of senior positions within the university, including Dean of Faculty, School Research Director, and the Head of the Health and Biosciences and Agrifood Doctoral Training Centres. In 2013, Naresh was awarded a D.Sc. by Cranfield University for his work on food spoilage and toxin-producing fungi.
Naresh participated in/contributed to many academic societies, including the British Society for Plant Pathology, the Society for General Microbiology and the Association of Applied Biologists. He was also particularly active in the British Mycological Society (BMS), serving on a range of the society’s special-interest committees, as BMS President from 2011–2012, and as a BMS council member (1989–1991 and 2000–2023). He also served on the Editorial Boards of the Journal of Applied Microbiology, Letters in Applied Microbiology, the World Mycotoxin Journal, the International Journal of Food Microbiology and Mycological Research. A special commemorative issue of Fungal Biology, the journal formerly known as Mycological Research, is planned for the many colleagues and admirers who had the pleasure of knowing him.
Outside the university, Naresh was a keen tennis, table tennis, badminton, and squash player. He passed away in April 2023 after a short illness and is survived by his wife Valerie, his two children Rohan and Tara, and his granddaughter Sienna.
Kevin Newsham (British Antarctic Survey); John E. Hallsworth (Queen’s University Belfast); Angel Medina Vaya (Cranfield University); Lynne Boddy (Cardiff University); Allen Y. Mswaka (Eastwood, Nottingham); Euphemia (Effie) S. Mutasa-Gottgens (European Molecular Biology Laboratory-European Bioinformatics Institute)