Engineering Nature’s Medicines
David Hopwood and the Streptomyces Revolution.
From making fundamental discoveries to building a community that brought academia and industry together
Streptomyces bacteria are globally important industrial microbes, but 60 years ago, our understanding of what made them tick was primitive in the extreme. That this has changed is due in no small part to the work of one man, Professor Sir David Hopwood. From making fundamental biological discoveries, to building a community that brought academia and industry into fruitful partnership, Sir David was the driving force of the Streptomyces field for his entire scientific career.
This is his story.
David, Spring 1961.
Lecturing at the Istituto Superiore di Sanitá, Rome, 1960.
The world’s first hybrid antibiotic. Cultures of S. coelicolor making blue actinorhodin, Streptomyces sp. AM-7161 making brown medermycin and the hybrid strain making purple mederrhodin.
“He was very intense, always sharp but he would never put anyone down.”
– Professor Mervyn Bibb FRS Molecular Microbiology at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, UK.
“Perhaps the most important realisation towards the end of my research career was that the actinomycetes, a group of largely soil-dwelling bacteria that produce most antibiotics of clinical relevance, carry the genetic potential to produce far more specialised metabolites than are revealed via traditional screening. The challenge is to find efficient ways to “wake up” these “sleeping” genes, which are undoubtedly expressed in nature under specific conditions not normally reproduced in the laboratory, so as to make their products available as potential drug leads in the fight against antibiotic resistant pathogens.”