During the late 1990's, Adelaide University undertook construction of purpose built accomodation for disciplines with a strong molecular biology research focus. This building was designed to house the then departments of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology and Immunology. As building progressed, the three departments negotiated to merge as a single department of Molecular Biosciences. By June of 2000, the merger was complete and in August and September of that year, the three discipline groups moved into the new Molecular Life Sciences building. The merger signalled the end of what had been a remarkable and illustrious research and teaching era for the old departments.
In 2002, The University of Adelaide implemented recommendations made by a Review of Biology. The Faculties of Agriculture & Natural Resources and Science were merged into a new Faculty of Sciences. As part of the merger, the former departments of the two faculties were merged into four schools. It was then that the Department of Molecular Biosciences became the new School of Molecular and Biomedical Science. The school comprises the disciplines of Biochemistry, Genetics and Microbiology & Immunology.
- History of Biochemistry at The University of Adelaide
- History of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Adelaide
The Early Years
It is perhaps not generally known that the first Chair of Biochemistry in Australia was established at the University of Adelaide in 1926. The Chair was held by a brilliant man T B Robertson, who nearly took up Physics under William Bragg, but turned his talents to Biology.
Robertson was a graduate of Adelaide (BSc, 1905; DSc 1908), who spent more than ten years abroad mainly at the University of California, Berkeley, and was Professor of Biochemistry at Toronto prior to his return to Adelaide and appointment to the Chair of Physiology in 1919 at age thirty-five. In 1923, Robertson referred to his Department as Physiology and Biochemistry (Med. J. Aust., 1, 407 (1923)) and in 1926 formally changed his Professorial position to that of Biochemistry and General Physiology. He was a protein chemist who wrote widely, including two major texts, one on the physical chemistry of proteins (1912) and the other on the principles of biochemistry (1920) and many research papers came from his fertile mind in an academic environment unused to such productivity. His achievements were numerous and can only be summarised here. He planned the layout of the Darling Building in 1922 which still houses the Department and it was in this building that he produced, early in 1923, the first batch in Australia of the then recently discovered insulin (1922) for which he had obtained a licence from Toronto and continued to make it until CSL took it over entirely in 1925.
Robertson's insulin was used at the Adelaide Hospital and it became readily available through his remarkable research skills which improved the yields 100 fold. The isolation and patenting of a still uncharacterised growth factor from the pituitary (see A W Burgess, TIBS 14, 117-120 (1989)) and the establishment of the CSIR Division of Animal Nutrition (now the CSIRO, Division of Human Nutrition) where, later, Marston, a former Honours student of Robertson's, discovered cobalt as a trace element in sheep nutrition, were outstanding achievements of Robertson. He also founded The Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science (now Immunology and Cell Biology) as a means of bringing clinicians and scientists together and for rapidly publishing the results of Australian research. But perhaps the most important of Robertson's innovations for Adelaide was the establishment of major courses in Biochemistry (see G E Rogers in Australian Dictionary of Biography, 11, 420-421 (1988) and V A Edgeloe, Biochemistry: The Chemistry of Living Matter in the University of Adelaide (1885 - 1984), Special Collections, Barr Smith Library, University of Adelaide). This rapid early flowering of Biochemistry in Australia so far from the major centres in Europe came to an abrupt end with Robertson's early death from pneumonia in 1930 and it was not until 1938 that the first Chairs in the discipline were established at Sydney and Melbourne (see V M Trikojus, TIBS 3, N174 (1978)).
The Mitchell Era
Sir Charles Martin, the retired Director of the Lister Institute in London, was invited to temporarily fill the gap left by Robertson. He stayed two years after which Mark Mitchell (Sir Mark in the last years of his life), also a former Honours student of Robertson's and a lecturer in the Department since 1927, was placed in charge and in 1938 he was elevated to Professorial status. Mark Mitchell was not research minded but he was a competent teacher, he wrote two handbooks on practical biochemistry and as editor-in-chief he promoted the journal set up by his former mentor.
Mitchell made an important addition to Biochemistry in Adelaide by appointing, in the late 1940's, Peter Nossal (brother of Sir Gustav Nossal , Director of WEHI) whose excellent abilities in research attracted research funds and research students, the like of which had not been seen since Robertson. Nossal rose rapidly to a Readership but he died in 1958. Although the Readership was filled by Eric Holdsworth, the Professor's involvement in administration of the University as Deputy Vice-Chancellor must have affected the Department's profile on the Australian Biochemical scene.
When Mitchell retired early in 1962, Bob Morton was invited to transfer from the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute to take up the Chair of Biochemistry vacated by Mitchell. Morton had been a Reader in Melbourne's Department of Biochemistry after service in the RAN during World War II and distinguished studies at Sydney. Later, with Malcolm Dixon at Cambridge, he began his vigorous research life which he continued in the Melbourne Department headed by Victor Trikojus, before moving to the Waite Institute in 1957. Morton, through University and external research funds, set about revitalising the Adelaide Department with a rapid refurbishment of its facilities, staffing, undergraduate courses and research training. The staff at the time were Beth Neville (appointed 1956), Eric Holdsworth (1958), Bruce Keech (1961), Bob Symons (1962) and George Rogers (1963). A laboratory accident took Morton's life in the September following his appointment and once again the Department suffered a severe blow to its activities and development.
The Department entered its most successful period with the appointment of W H (Bill) Elliott in 1965 as its Professor and Head, a position he held with distinction until his early retirement in 1988. Bill gained his PhD also at Cambridge with Dixon and Webb, spent a post-doctoral period with Fritz Lipman in Boston and then joined Hans Krebs in Oxford. Prior to his appointment to Adelaide he was a Professorial Fellow in the Biochemistry Department of the John Curtin School for Medical Research with Hugh Ennor, the Foundation Professor of Biochemistry at ANU. Bill enthusiastically set about building the Adelaide Department into a small cohesive group with the main objective being to teach modern biochemistry from a strong research base. Fortunately, he had access to funds for staff development so he was able to add to the three remaining members of staff (Holdsworth and Neville having moved to the University of Tasmania).
The immediately ensuing years saw the appointment of Julian Wells (1967), Barry Egan (1967), John Wallace (1970) and Brian May (1970); members who remained as the backbone of the Department. John Wheldrake was on staff for three years but transferred to Flinders University in 1970 and Bruce Keech, the resident enzymologist, retired in 1982. Julian Wells died in 198-
Over the next twenty three years a strong team spirit developed and the undergraduate teaching attracted many students such that within five years the numbers in third year were trebled. Moreover, the Honours course rapidly became known for its quality and many excellent students entered into research careers over the ensuing twenty years and are now spread, around Universities and Research Institutes both in Australia and overseas.
Some of these PhD graduates include the following: Rudolph Appels (Canberra), Leonie Ashman (Adelaide), Chris Bagley (Heidelberg), Gerry Both (Sydney), Greg Barritt (Adelaide), Bob Crawford (Melbourne), Peter Clements (Adelaide), Adrienne Day (San Diego), Steve Dalton (London), Simon Easterbrook?Smith (Sydney), Nick Gough (Melbourne), Greg Goodall (Adelaide), Tom Gonda (Adelaide), Neil Goss (Sydney), Jenny Goss (Sydney), Richard Harvey (Melbourne), Peter Hudson (Melbourne), Dave Kemp (Melbourne), Phil Kuchel (Sydney), Paul Krieg (Austin, Texas), Anna Koltunow (Adelaide), Yee?Sim Khew?Goodall (Adelaide), Peter Kretschmer (New Jersey), Trevor Lockett (Sydney), Fil Lim (Heidelberg), Peter Molloy (Sydney), Phil Morris (Adelaide), Ted McMurchie (Adelaide), David Mottershead (Boston), Carol Olds (Maryland), Geoff Partington (London), Nelson Phillips (Cleveland), Rob Richards (Adelaide), Peter Rathjen (Adelaide), Rob Saint (Adelaide), Peter Steinert (Bethesda), John Smeaton (Adelaide), Paul Tolstoshev (Bethesda), Jane Visvader (Melbourne), Peter Vize (Harvard), Alan Williams (Oxford) and Ian Walker (Melbourne).
The degree of success of Bill Elliott's fostering of the Department with its relatively small staff of seven academics, can be gauged from the fact that the twenty Honours and seven PhD's who graduated 1945 - 1964 increased to 170 and 83 respectively during the period 1965 - 1984.
The grand plan for the Department was to concentrate on only a few themes in which groups operated around individual staff members. This was rather more successful than at first envisaged and allowed the Department to grasp opportunities when gene research entered its contemporary phase with the advent of recombinant DNA techniques in the early 1979s.
Gradually the research groups began to move closer to the point where the Department had a major theme in its teaching and research of the biochemistry of gene expression. All groups were using recombinant DNA techniques with the benefit of critical mass and self-help. These factors were fundamental to the almost simultaneous development within the Department of the University-owned company Bresa (now Bresatec) in 1982 through the efforts of Bob Symons (Bob transferred to the Department of Plant Sciences at the Waite Agricultural Research Institute in January 1991) the award of one of the Commonwealth Government's Special Research Centres (1982 - 1990) and an increase in the research activities that continues to attract external grants to support some 25 postdocs, 30 PhD and 12 Honours students. Bresatec expanded considerably with research input from projects derived from the Department of Biochemistry and from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
The Department and the Australian Biochemical Society
Members of the Department have been State Representatives from time to time and constant contributors to the Annual Meetings of the Society over many years. Several (Elliott, Rogers, Symons and Wells) have been Lemberg lecturers and one (Wallace) was an LKB medallist in 1986. Bill Elliott, in conjunction with Tony Linnane of Monash University, played a leading role in the organisation of the successful International Congress of Biochemistry sponsored by the Society and the Australian Academy of Science and held in Perth in 1992
Modified from an article written by Professor George Rogers, former Head of the Department of Biochemistry
A medical school was established in the University of Adelaide in 1885, but microbiology was not formally recognized until 1920, when John Burton Cleland was appointed Professor of Pathology and Bacteriology and Director of the South Australian Government Laboratory of Bacteriology and Pathology and gave courses in bacteriology to medical students. Other staff also had joint appointments in the University and the Government Laboratory; from 1930-37 Lionel Bately Bull was lecturer in experimental bacteriology and in 1935 Albert Edward Platt (Plate 1) was appointed as lecturer in bacteriology. As well as taking over the medical student training, Platt introduced Bacteriology I and II for science students, with instruction in virology from Edward Weston Hurst. The science courses were modelled on those of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where Platt had obtained a Diploma of Bacteriology. In 1938 he was appointed Professor of Bacteriology and Deputy Director of the Laboratory. Nancy Atkinson, who was to play a major role in the development of bacteriology in Adelaide, joined the Laboratory in 1937 as assistant to Platt. From the time of her arrival Atkinson assisted in the teaching of science and agriculture students, and took over responsibility for all teaching of bacteriology after Platt's departure in 1941.
In 1939 the Government Laboratory was incorporated within the newly formed Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (IMVS). IMVS staff were appointed under the Institute Act but could be granted approval to teach in the University, an arrangement that was important for the future of the university department. In 1941 Platt resigned to become Director of the Institute of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Prince Henry Hospital in Sydney, and in 1942 Atkinson (Plate 2), who had been appointed a lecturer in 1939, became Lecturer-in-Charge of Bacteriology in the University and Bacteriologist-in-Charge of the Department of Bacteriology in the Institute. In 1950, when J. O. Poynton became Director of the Institute, the system of dual appointments was abolished, and in 1952 Atkinson left the Institute staff to become Reader-in-Charge of Bacteriology in the University. Atkinson's principal research was on salmonellas and antibiotics, and she trained a number of students who later achieved influential positions in microbiology, including D. I. Annear, R. S. V Bain, F. Bullas, F Collins, J. C. M. Fornachon, E. L. French, J. Harris, B. W. Holloway, J. S. Loutit, B. Moore, B. C. Rankine, A. H. Rogers, G. C. Simmons, N. F Stanley and G. M. Woodroofe.
The department continued to be housed in the Institute until the mid-1950s, when an addition to the Medical School Building was made for its accommodation. James Elvins McCartney had joined the Institute staff in 1952, and gave lectures and attended practical classes for the medical students, and occasionally for the science students.
The Rowley Era
As a result of the considerable growth of the Department during the 1950s, a Chair of Microbiology was established and in 1960 Derrick Rowley (Plate 3) was appointed as the first Professor of Microbiology. Accommodation was increased in the early 1960s, and because of the change in emphasis in the scientific work of the Department its name was changed in 1970 to Microbiology and Immunology.
Throughout its existence the Department has taught science and medical students. In early years microbiology was also taught to dental and pharmacy students, and in the 1950s Atkinson gave some lectures in general and industrial microbiology which were attended by students of the South Australian Institute of Technology as well as by university students. In 1965 the pharmacy course was transferred to the South Australian Institute of Technology, and in 1967 responsibility for the teaching of microbiology to dental students was assumed by the Department of Oral Biology, to which Atkinson transferred in 1967; she retired in 1975. With Rowley's appointment, teaching and research were concentrated increasingly on immunology, especially host-parasite relationships, and prokaryote molecular biology. By 1962, there were several Post-doctoral Fellows in the Department, including Dr Peter Reeves, who was later appointed Lecturer.
Work on the immunology of bacterial infections was mainly concerned with intestinal immunity, but the appointment of George Bellamy Mackaness - a distinguished immunologist from ANU - to a personal chair in 1963, brought in an interest in the immunology of generalized bacterial infections. Mackaness moved to the United States in 1965 to become Director of the Trudeau Institute. The appointment of Peter Reeves as lecturer in 1965 led to the establishment of a strong group in bacterial genetics, and Charles Rheinhold Jenkin (appointed 1960) had a particular interest in defence reactions in invertebrate animals. Various aspects of applied immunology were strengthened by the appointments of Keven Turner (immunochemistry; 1962-67), Graham Jackson (immunochemistry; 1965-69), Ieva Kotlarski (lymphocyte interactions; appointed 1966), Bruce Reynolds (complement; 1967-82), Douglas Hardy (medical immunology; 1967-85), Leonie Ashman (cancer immunology; appointed 1978), Peter Ey (parasite immunity; appointed 1978) and Graham Mayrhofer (basic immunology; appointed 1983). Paul Manning was appointed in 1979 to strengthen molecular biology. Peter Reeves resigned in 1985 to take up the Chair in Microbiology at Sydney University. Connor Thomas arrived from Massey University, New Zealand to take up the post of Lecturer in Microbiology in February of 1986.
By the mid-1980's, a strong postgraduate school was established, and the Department numbered among its alumni, 62 students who completed PhD degrees and 170 who had received BSc Honours degrees; in 1987 there were 7 postdoctoral fellows, 17 postgraduate students, and 11 Honours students.
In the early 1980s members of the Department with interests in immunology and molecular biology combined forces to bioengineer hybrid live vaccines for oral administration, to produce simultaneously protection against typhoid and cholera, for example. A joint venture research company, Enterovax, was set up between the University and local industry, to develop oral vaccines against enteric diseases of human beings and animals.
Rowley retired in 1987, and Ieva Kotlarski became Acting head of the Department until in 1990 Christopher John Burrell was appointed to the Chair.
In 1980/81 Professor Rowley and Dr Paul Manning were awarded a WHO research grant to investigate the possibility of constructing a genetically engineered oral vaccine against cholera. The grant, although minor, together with NH&MRC support in 1981/82 and the award of a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship to Dr. Manning, enabled preliminary work to be done. The concept developed was to transfer genes encoding "protective" antigens of cholera into avirulent strains of Salmonellae which could then be used as live oral vaccines.
Avirulent Salmonella strains were selected as recipient (ie: vaccine) strains for cloned genes because of their capacity to colonize the Peyer's patches of the small intestine following oral administration. Previous work from the Department had shown that this was a critical factor in determining whether an avirulent Salmonella strain could act as an effective oral vaccine against mouse typhoid; presumably, Peyer's patch colonization achieves the most effective stimulation of the host's secretory immune system. Indeed, it was found that there was a direct correlation between the degree and length of colonization of the Peyer's patches by different Salmonella strains and their ability to induce both humoral and cell-mediated immunity.
The early work established procedures and techniques for extracting DNA and examined the surface variability of the organisms. The first Vibrio cholerae gene clones were isolated at that time. Experiments designed as models for testing the vaccine approach also set the path to the development of a vaccine against pig scours. In 1983 the F.H. Faulding Biotechnology grant enabled the employment of post-doctoral and research assistant staff and this led to the development of colony and immuno-blotting techniques for the reliable detection of clones. The first defined outer membrane protein clones were obtained in August of that year.
In 1984, in response to a Commonwealth Government initiative under the National Biotechnology Programme Grants Scheme, the Department was granted $872,000 over three years to develop "oral vaccines against diarrhoeal disease in man and animals". The most important condition of this grant was the involvement of industry in the project to ensure the commercial exploitation of any 'products' developed. F.H. Faulding, the South Australian Pharmaceutical Company, agreed to contribute a further $450,000 over the three years of the project.
A Company jointly owned by the University and Faulding (Enterovax Research Pty Ltd) was set up to administer the grants in a trustee capacity. In 1985, another related project to develop a Delivery System for oral vaccines attracted funding from the Commonwealth under the I R & D Grants Scheme, $500,000 being allocated from the Federal Government, $250,000 from Faulding and $250,000 from the University The University's 'share' of this funding was provided by the South Australian Government as an interest-free loan repayable from future income, and was arranged through Luminis Pty Ltd, the then commercial arm of the University of Adelaide.
The scientific direction to this venture was provided by a scientific advisory committee under the leadership of Professor Rowley. Most senior academic members of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology contributed both directly and indirectly. Employees of the company were post-doctoral, research assistants and technical staff integrated with staff within the Department, (See Tables 1 and 2). By 1986 the staff of Enterovax had increased to 19. In 1987, the company moved into renovated laboratories located on the Level 4 of the South wing of the Medical School.
Thus the initial project was considerably expanded and the research Company formed in 1984 had two major research and development priorities. These were the original cholera candidate vaccine and a similarly modelled vaccine against pig scours. Significant success was achieved in both areas and the latter project advanced to limited field trial. The key point of the cholera vaccine was that it would be bi-valent, with the Salmonella typhi (Ty21a) vector providing immunity to typhoid and the passenger antigen (V. cholerae O antigen) eliciting antibodies which would potentially protect against cholera.
A series of candidate bi-valent vaccines were produced. After safety testing in animals, the safety and immunogenicity of these constructs were evaluated in human volunteers (on an outpatient basis at the Royal Adelaide Hospital). All constructs were safe and showed variable capacity to induce antibodies to both the vector and passenger antigen in the bloodstream and gut. One candidate was selected for evaluation as a cholera vaccine in a human challenge trial conducted at the Centre for Vaccine Development in Baltimore, USA. Volunteers given the Enterovax vaccine showed significantly reduced excretion of challenge bacteria (V. cholerae), but the protective efficacy was only 25%.
Although a vaccine construct which more reliably evoked antibodies to V. cholerae O antigen was subsequently constructed, no funds were available for a second challenge trial. In 1987, a significant downturn in the Australian economy resulted in market conditions which were unfavorable for a company float. With declining financial support, Enterovax wound down as a private venture.
The Australian Journal of Experimental Biology & Medical Science
The Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science was founded in 1924 by the Medical Sciences Club of Adelaide for the purpose of publishing /the results of original wok in sciences ancillary to medicine. The pioneering work necessary for the establishment of the Journal was done mainly by the late Professor T. Brailsford Robertson. In association with Sir John Cleland, he was Managing Editor from its inception until his death in 1930.
Originally the Journal was financed by a grant from the University (sustained by the Miss A.F. Keith Sheridan bequest) and from the revenue of the Medical Sciences Club but, as the scope of the publication extended, further finance became necessary. In 1926 the University of Adelaide made available the income from the Sir Joseph Verco bequest (for the publication of medical research) and assumed responsibility for the Journal.
After the sudden death of Professor Brailsford Robertson, Sir Charles Martin became Editor for several years and was followed by Sir Mark Mitchell. Professor Derrick Rowley succeeded Sir Mark Mitchell as Editor in 1963.
As a uniquely Australian publication, the Journal had a reasonably large world-wide circulation and published papers reporting results of original research or concepts in the fields of Biochemistry, Biology, Genetics, Immunology, Microbiology, Parasitology, Pathology, Pharmacology, Physiology and Virology. A Management Committee was responsible for supervision of the finances of the Journal and an Editorial Board (consisting of local and interstate experts) for overall Journal policy. From 1963, when Professor Rowley was appointed as Editor, the Journal was run from a small office in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Rowley was responsible for the day to day management of the affairs of the Journal with the help of a part-time secretary (Mrs Pat Emery) and Ieva Kotlarski, who became Deputy Editor in 1970 and Dr Frewin (Pharmacology Dept, now Executive Dean, Faculty of Health Sciences) who became a second Deputy Editor in 1985. Most of the other members of the Department academic staff were members of the Editorial Board of the Journal and referees of manuscripts submitted to the Journal. The Journal was published by Blackwell Scientific Publishers (Australia) Pty Ltd with the permission of The University of Adelaide.
In 1987, the Journal changed its name from The Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science to Immunology and Cell Biology in order to reflect the general trend of the Journal content. With the retirement of Derek Rowley from the University of Adelaide, Ieva Kotlarski took over as Editor of the Journal. One of her Editorial tasks was to leverage alternative financial arrangements for the Journal when it became apparent that the University could no longer continue to provide funds for the 350 - 400 copies of the Journal given to the Barr Smith Library for exchange purposes. She negotiated an arrangement with the Australian Society for Immunology to provide more formal support for the Journal. As a result, the Journal became the official publication of the Society from 1987. Negotiations between the University of Adelaide and Blackwell Scientific Publications placed the publication on a sound financial footing and guaranteed exchange copies of the Journal to the Barr Smith library at a favorable rate.
The Australian Society for Immunology took over complete editorial responsibility for the Journal in 1992. Chris Parish at that time assumed the role of Editor in Chief. For her services to the Journal, Ieva Kotlarski was awarded an Honorary Life Membership of the Australian Society for Immunology.
Based on material printed in History of Microbiology in Australia. Edited by Frank Fenner. Australian Society for Microbiology Inc. Reproduced with permission of the Australian Society for Microbiology Inc.
Information about Enterovax and the Australian Journal of Experimental Biology and Medical Science was obtained from Department of Microbiology and Immunology Review documents (1987). I thank Ieva Kotlarski and Dr Stephen Attridge for additional factual content..
Department of Molecular Biosciences