About Division O

The following is an excerpt by Dr. Arnold Demain was taken from the Division O, Fall 1999 Newsletter:

HISTORY OF THE DIVISION O (FERMENTATION MICROBIOLOGY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY) OF THE AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR MICROBIOLOGY

By: Arnold L. Demain, M.I.T.

In 1996, I was the head of the Department of Fermentation Research at Merck & Co., Inc. in Rahway, NJ. As a devoted 12-year member of ASM, I was concerned about the low quality and quantity of papers dealing with fermentation which were presented at annual ASM meetings. On the other hand, I was very pleased with the coverage given to the fermentation area in our local branch, the Theobald Smith Society (New Jersey Branch of ASM). I wondered whether anything could be done about the annual ASM situation. An idea came to mind when I recalled the success that Herman Phaff (my former professor and long-time roommate at Annual ASM meetings) had been having with his informal annual Yeast Roundtable at the annual meeting. Thus, in 1966, I contacted friends in the ASM and proposed an informal Fermentation Roundtable for the 1967 meeting in New York City. I explained that although many fermentation people attended the Annual ASM meeting, they presented their best work at ACS meetings and something had to be done to make the Annual ASM meeting more interesting. About 100 people showed up and most presented, in an informal setting, what they were working on. A mailing list was established. I was also able to influence the Agricultural and Industrial Division (there were only four ASM Divisions in those days) to try to improve their program. Bill Hynes of USDA in Peoria was Chair of the A&I Division in 1967 and he proved very cooperative. He agreed to place a box on the abstract form labeled "Fermentation."

The second Fermentation Roundtable in Detroit attracted 150 people and was so successful that the A&I Division, under the Chairmanship of Dave Pramer of Rutgers University, invited us to become the Fermentation Section of the A&I Division in 1968. At that time, I defined our interests to be "fermentation products and biochemistry, genetics, nutrition, microbiology and regulation of the organisms which produce them." We voted in Oldrich K. Sebek of the Upjohn Co. as our first Chair. Oldrich had been instrumental in the A&I Division's decision to set up a Fermentation Section.

Towards the end of 1968, I started a Fermentation Newsletter to be sent out twice a year to the 150 people on our mailing list. Issue number 1 announced the Third Fermentation Roundtable, which was to take place at the 1969 Miami Beach Annual ASM meeting. It was a formal program featuring a roundtable on "Metabolic Regulation and Fermentation" which brought together for the first time basic and applied scientists dealing with microbial physiology, biochemistry and fermentation. In addition to the Roundtable, we organized the first Fermentation Luncheon. It was another huge success since it made available a time and a place for fermentation people to gather, interact and enjoy themselves. Indeed it was decided that since the new Section had been so successful in attracting papers and Seminars, there was no need to continue the Fermentation Roundtable and that it would be replaced by the Fermentation Luncheon. I was elected to be the 2nd Chair of the Section (1969-70).

The 1970 Annual ASM meeting in Boston featured, for the first time, a full program of fermentation offerings including two symposia, four seminars and three paper sessions. Alex Ciegler of the USDA (Peoria) was chosen as Chair for 1970-71. During 1971, ASM agreed to our suggestion to change the name of the Agricultural and Industrial Division to the Environmental and Applied Microbiology Division and I was elected as Chair of the Division. Thus, we became the Fermentation Section of the Applied and Environmental Microbiology Division of ASM.

The 1971-72 Chair was Ed Katz of Georgetown University. During 1972, the ASM decided to reorganize its structure from a small number to a large number of Divisions. We were consulted as a model group for the formation of new Divisions. Twenty-one provisional Divisions were set up including one called Fermentation Microbiology. One hundred and fifty members were necessary for a provisional Division to become a permanent Division and we made it easily. Jerry Birnbaum (Merck & Co.) was elected Chair of the Fermentation Microbiology Section for 1972-73 and Al Laskin (Esso, Linden, NJ) for 1973-74. Finally, the new Fermentation Microbiology Division was born in 1974 with the late Dave Perlman as its Chair.

The Fermentation Microbiology Division continued to grow under the chairs of Bill Charney (1975-76) and Claude Vezina (1976-77). At the 1976 meeting, the annual Fermentation Luncheon was changed into the Fermentation Cocktail Party since participants wanted more conversation time than eating time. Both types of events were huge successes due to the enthusiasm, loyalty and conviviality of our members.

Chairs for the next few years were Dick Elander (1977-78), Mike Pisano (1978-79) and Bernie Abbott (1979-80). In 1979, the editorship of the Newsletter passed on from me to Steve Drew. Barbara Lago became Chair for 1980-81. She was succeeded by Chuck Claridge (1981-82), Paul Lemke (1982-83), Charlie Cooney (1983-84), John Litchfield (1984-85), Joan Bennett (1985-86), Steve Drew (1986-87) and Bob Detroy (1987-88). Alan Proctor took the Chair during 1988-89 and Ed Katz in 1989-90. They were followed by Lou Kaplan (1990-91), Burt Pogell (1991-92), Linda Lasure (199293), Vince Gullo (1993-94), Doug Eveleigh (1994-95), Al Laskin (1995-96), Richard Wax (1996-97), David Wu (1997-98), Sima Sariaslani (1998-99) and Deepak Bhatnagar (1999-00). The Chair for 2000-01 will be Lonnie Ingram.

In 1983, the name of the division was changed to Fermentation Microbiology and Biotechnology. The Division has always been blessed with devoted workers including the Newsletter Editors who followed Steve, i.e., Pamela McCormick, Chuck Claridge, Bob Detroy, Sima Sarasliani, Brenda Faison, and most recently Deepak Bhatnagar and Jeff Cary. In 1997, the newsletter was given the name "The FermentOgram." The companies who have aided in the survival of the Newsletter and the progress of the Division are too numerous to mention and we love them all. The Division was also blessed with excellent speakers who were chosen as Divisional Lecturers after this honor was initiated in 1978. They are listed below: