The winner of the 2013 ASM Lifetime Achievement Award (sponsored by AbbVie) is Julian Davies, Ph.D., University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada for his pioneering work on antimicrobials and his distinguished leadership and service to the field of microbiology. According to his nominator, Moselio Schaechter, San Diego State University, “Davies has been an articulate and convincing spokesperson for the microbiological sciences. Indeed, his contributions have been of lasting and penetrating value.”
Davies obtained his Bachelor’s degree in 1953 and his Ph.D. in 1956, both in Chemistry, from Nottingham University. After three years of postdoctoral training at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin, he became Lecturer in Chemistry at the University of Manchester Institute of Technology. As Davies became increasingly interested in biology, he obtained a research fellowship in the laboratory of Bernard Davis at Harvard Medical School examining the mode of streptomycin action and mechanism of resistance. This led to a brief, but successful, collaboration with H. Gobind Khorana at Wisconsin analyzing antibiotic-induced miscoding, followed by a two-year scholarship in the laboratory of Francois Jacob at the Pasteur Institute where Davies carried out genetic mapping of the regulatory genes of the E.coli lac operon. In 1967 he took a faculty position at the University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison where his laboratory focused on studying the origins and evolution of antibiotic resistance, and later, antibiotic biosynthesis. A sabbatical year in Geneva in 1975 led to the discovery of Tn5 and other antibiotic resistant transposons in collaboration with Douglas Berg. A productive collaboration with Antonio Jimenez led to the development of the antibiotic G-418 as a powerful selective agent for genetic exchange in eukaryotic cells.
In 1980, Davies left UW to become Research Director of the biotechnology company, Biogen, in Geneva, Switzerland, eventually becoming President of the Geneva operation. “Davies was one of the first microbiologists to enter the biotechnology industry focusing for decades on the development of antibiotics,” says Jonathan Beckwith, Harvard Medical School, “During the entire time Davies was in the industry, he continued his close ties to the academic microbiology community, remaining an influential figure for academic researchers.” In 1986 he returned to academia, joining the Institut Pasteur as head of the new Microbial Engineering unit.
Davies became Professor and Head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia(UBC) in 1992. The year before retiring he founded TerraGen Diversity, one of the first environmental DNA metagenomic start-ups (subsequently acquired by Cubist Pharmaceuticals). Despite officially retiring in 1997, he continues to teach and run a laboratory in the Life Sciences Institute at UBC where his research focuses on the roles of small molecules in bacterial community signaling.
Davies served as the President of the American Society of Microbiology in 2001 and President of the International Union of Microbiological Societies from 2003-2005. More recently he served as Chair of the External Scientific Board for the NIH Human Microbiome Project. Davies, a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, has received a number of awards and honors including Fellowship of the Royal Societies of London and Canada, the Bristol-Myers Squibb and Roussel medals, as well as the Gold Medal of the Society of General Microbiology (UK). He has also received honorary degrees from several European and Canadian universities.