The Passing of Prof Tony Trinci
It is our sad task to inform the BMS membership of the death of Prof Tony Trinci. He was BMS president in 1991 as well as President of the Microbiology Society (formerly the Society of General Microbiology) in 1994. His life and work influenced and supported many of the current leading academics across the spectrum of microbiological sciences.
Prof Neil Gow of Exeter University recalls;
'As a PhD student I am sure I read every single one of Tony Trinci’s papers. His insights provided the conceptual framework by which we still understand mycelial development and the cell cycle of filamentous fungi. The clarity of his thinking and argument provided a lifelong basis to explain how filamentous fungi evolved to be one of the most successful groups of eukaryotic organisms on the planet. Tony’s work with other colleagues and collaborators also easily translated into applied mycology – and he had critical roles in developing the Quorn fermentation process for example. Beyond the immense contributions he made to the foundations of fungal physiology, Tony Trinci was a huge enthusiast, mentor and inspiration to several generations of mycologist and cell biologist. I’m honoured to have had him examine my PhD thesis that I carried out in Graham Gooday’s lab and I enjoyed his advice and support for the rest of my career . He was also a brilliant and visionary strategic thinker who had a major role in the development of the higher education sector in Manchester – for example playing a big part of the bringing together of UMIST and the University of Manchester. A lot of people who benefitted from Tony’s support have been exchanging emails since the news of his death. We are all unified by a sense of profound loss and by a shared mutual respect of someone liked and admired in equal measure. But the best way to celebrate his life is to go back and read his work – you can’t fully understand the filamentous fungi until you have'.
Professor Keith Gull of University of Oxford adds;
He was a famous mycologist who worked tirelessly on behalf of the Society and UK mycology throughout his career. His work on fungi laid the ground for understanding growth kinetics and found application in industrial fermentation processes. He was asked to work on the Quorn fermentation with Marlow Foods in 1990s and he worked out the rationale behind the development of the colonial variants in the Quorn fermentation that was affecting the continuous fermentation process. Having understood the physiology of the reasons for the variant selection and their recessive nature he suggested a number of routes for suppression. The explanation for the variant emergence is a nice story where basic research – and expertise gleaned and maintained over a career – is brought to bear with industrial colleagues on a “real-life” problem. A good example of funding basic mycological research with long term benefits.
He was also instrumental in the leading the change in UK Biological Science departments that had become sectored in the early part of last century and in Manchester he led the formation of a single, integrated School of Biological Sciences. The Manchester re-organisation (14 small departments into one) was followed by virtually every large Bioscience Grouping in UK (with varying degrees of success). So, one can write about his science and also his leadership and contributions to microbiology in the UK. He also spent much time ensuring mycology had a voice in research councils etc.
Prof Naresh Magan of Cranfield University Remembers;
He was BMS President when I was on Council and was excellent. Of course he and the late Dr Geoff Robson were famous for the development of the air lift fermenter for Quorn (Fusarium) mycoprotein production. I remember an IMC Meeting in Vancouver where they had an air lift fermenter on display and he gave the keynote welcome address to the IMC event. I recall discussing the science in relation to water relations of fungi, especially fungi to control pests and ecology, and his work on fungal growth which was so renowned in the 1970s.
In the1970’s, Tony and colleagues, working at Queen Elizabeth College (QEC: University of London) used time-lapse photography and mathematical modelling to observe hyphal growth and branch initiation in aerobic filamentous fungi. In seminal studies, the group led by Tony developed the methodologies to quantify the kinetics of growth of filamentous fungi. As a young postdoctoral scientist working at QEC under the direction of Tony in the late 1970, I (MKT) was exposed to these principles of microbial cell quantification.
Tony’s enthusiastic tutelage and his attention to the minutest of detail had a significant influence on my own research career. Soon after Tony moved to Manchester University and I took a post as a Rumen Microbiologist at the Grassland Research, we came together again to develop collaboration on the recently identified, dogma-defying gut anaerobic fungi. We started our collaboration in 1983 with the appointment of Susan Lowe, the first of many jointly supervised PhD students. Our collaboration lasted for three decades of uninterrupted research, until Tony’s retirement from university life in the early noughties.
In our initial studies, Tony was keen to investigate the life history of this somewhat obscure group of anaerobic, rumen-dwelling fungi for which oxygen is a toxin. Combining forces in our collaborative venture worked well for us. Tony had a readily available supply of anaerobic fungi and his knowledge of fungal growth kinetics and meticulous attention to detail were instrumental in helping to explore some of the more fundamental aspects of the fungal life cycle and role they played in the rumen.
The big win for us in the early years was our work on elucidating the timing of events of gut fungal life cycle; this included the identification of a hitherto unrecognised survival stage in the life cycle. This work required some lateral thinking and thorough attention to detail, attributes Tony brought to his research. The early work contributed to the recognition that anaerobic fungi are ubiquitous in the gastrointestinal tract of most roughage consuming, large, mammalian herbivores where they digest lignocellulosic plant biomass.
Jayne Brookman joined our collaboration in 1994, when a greater proportion of Tony’s time was taken by senior management activities at the University. Our focus shifted towards molecular aspects of fungal biology and we developed one of the first programmes on various molecular and biotechnological aspects of the gut fungi. The molecular work focused on using ribosomal DNA sequences to aid typing and phylogenetic studies, with the first study published in 2000 forming a key work in the field. Work included projects with Genencor (now part of DuPont) investigating fungal enzymes from aerobic and anaerobic fungi for use in animal feed. We had a marked success with our phytase enzymes isolated from Penicillium species that were used to release phosphate in animal feeds. The patent was eventually assigned to Genencor for a reasonable sum and Tony joked at the time that it was the only occasion when exploitation of his research had brought him any hard cash!
Tony was a person of excellent judgment, both scientifically and in the broader academic sphere. He was a kind, thoughtful and steadying influence on our research group. He brought the highest level of scientific rigor to our mycological studies. He helped shape our approach to engagement with others and remained a good friend when one of us (Jayne) stepped away from the academic life into a more commercial sphere. Lessons learnt from Tony have guided us throughout our careers: To approach problems calmly and only progress if you stand a good chance of winning, and work hard to build consensus, carrying colleagues along with you to wherever you are heading. Tony lived his professional life to these maxims.
More than this though, Tony was great company, he was interested in a wide variety of topics, interested in people as well as science. We were lucky enough to count Tony and his wife, Margaret as friends and spent many good times with them. Both of us were pleasantly surprised to be guests at the top table for Tony’s surprise 80th birthday party a few years ago which was a lovely family occasion. We will miss him greatly.
Recollections of a kind and wise supervisor by Dr Gareth Griffith
I first met Tony as an undergraduate when I got a Nuffield summer studentship with him to assist Sue Lowe (Sue’s boyfriend Bob Lovitt was a postdoc with Gareth Morris in Aberystwyth). At the time, Tony was Head of Cryptogamic Botany. I was amazed at the range of projects that were underway in Tony’s lab and the strong camaraderie. Despite having the department to manage, Tony would frequently pop into the lab to ask how the work was going, often providing wise advice to help solve any technical problems I was facing. I later realised how he was also subtly guiding the experiments to ensure that they were robust and well integrated. Tony was also kind enough to include me as co-author on the paper that later emerged - my first publication!
As my introduction to mycology, it was fantastic, influencing my subsequent choice of PhD and approach to research in general. I shared an office with Geoff Robson, then a PhD student, who was later appointed to the academic staff at Manchester, acting as Tony’s right hand man and running the mycology lab when Tony was head of the huge Biological Sciences department. My last conversation with Tony was in 2018 after Geoff’s very sad and untimely death.
Recollections of a caring and supportive PhD supervisor by Dr Dave Davies
I first met Tony at my undergraduate viva at Aberystwyth University. Tony was the external examiner. At the end of my viva, he asked me what my future plans were. I said I was very interested in pursuing a PhD in his subject, anaerobic fungi. Two weeks later, I had an invitation to meet with him at Manchester University to discuss a PhD he had to offer. It was a very informal interview and obviously I jumped at the opportunity.
During my time as one of Tony's numerous students, I found Tony always very approachable despite his major role within the University. He was an excellent supervisor: friendly, encouraging, and held regular meetings. I was a student that started early every morning and often bumped into Tony, as he also started early. One early morning springs to mind, when I managed to smash a glass pipette into my and and cause an injury that needed some medical attention. Tony was in his office, I went to see him to ask for assistance which he offered whole heartedly. What I was unaware of at the time was that he did not like the sight of blood. However, he came back into the lab, I directed him to paper towels etc’ so that he didn't have to see my blood. Then he escorted me to the nearby hospital. He stayed with me despite having copious other things to do until the medical profession took me from the waiting room. This was typical of Tony, not only a good supervisor but one that cared as well. Throughout my time as his student, and afterwards as an academic I knew I could turn to him if I needed help and advice.
Tony will be a sad loss to academia, but also to humanity.