International Women’s Day: inspirational microbiologists
Today is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the women who have made economic, social and political achievements including those in science. Female scientists such as Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin and Dorothy Hodgson are deservedly talked about each year, but I would like to take this time to talk about those women who have contributed significantly to the field of microbiology. Here are just a few of the amazing female microbiologists I think are admirable and worthy of a mention on this day:
Rebecca Lancefield: A pioneer microbiologist, who spent almost all of her 60 years in research at the Rockefeller institute, where she studied Streptococci. In 1933, she classified Streptococci into ‘Lancefield’ groups based on cell surface antigens. Pathogenic Streptococci could subsequently be identified using a simple serological test, which is still used today.
Marjory Stephenson: Born in 1885, she was one of the first two females to become a Royal Society member. Specialising in bacterial metabolism, she was the first to isolate a bacterial enzyme and wrote a book on the subject which was a standard textbook for generations of microbiologists. She co-founded the Society of General Microbiology, of which she was the second president, after Louis Pasteur.
Nancy Millis. An Australian microbiologist, Millis is renowned for her work in industrial microbiology and fermentation technology. She introduced fermentation technologies to Australia and implemented the first applied microbiology course in an Australian University.
Margaret Pittman. A bacteriologist who acclaimed international reputation for discovering that some Haemophilus influenzae strains are encapsulated, making them pathogenic; a great achievement for someone who hadn’t even turned 30 years old! This was not her greatest discovery however, as she went on to developing a vaccine for whooping cough, caused by Bordetella pertussis.
Rita Colwell. Her interests include global infectious disease, particularly water-borne diseases. Her work on Vibrio cholera has significantly advanced our understanding of this species, which causes cholera, gastroenteritis and septicaemia. In her early career, she found V. cholera lives in zooplankton, proving it is widespread in the environment and can never be eradicated. She is also a keen advocate of promoting the interest of women in science.
Have these influential female microbiologists inspired you? Who else do you admire for their exceptional work?