Dorothy Jones, 1930-2016

A microbiologist who revolutionised the classification of bacteria has died

September 22, 2016
Obituary: Dorothy Jones, 1930-2016

Dorothy Jones was born on 21 April 1930 in a village near Wrexham in North Wales.

She studied at local schools and then for a BSc in botany at the University of Wales, Bangor, followed by a postgraduate diploma in microbiology at the University of Reading.

While working briefly as a researcher at Burroughs Wellcome Research Laboratories in Beckenham, South London, she gained distressing first-hand experience of the devastating effects of infectious diseases when she suffered a severe bout of brucellosis.

After returning to Reading to pursue an MSc in microbiology, Dr Jones secured a scholarship from the American Meat Institute Foundation to carry out research on streptococci, which led to a PhD at the University of Chicago.

Back in the UK, she spent a short period at the University of Birmingham before, in 1965, joining the University of Leicester, where she remained for the rest of her career.

This was initially as a research biologist in the recently created Microbial Systematics Unit, led by Peter Sneath and funded by the Medical Research Council, and she played a key role in developing new methods of identifying and classifying microorganisms.

Although this unit was shut in 1975 and transformed into the microbiology department of the newly founded Leicester Medical School, Dr Jones did not formally join the university and was instead retained at Leicester by the MRC as a senior research fellow.

She was, nonetheless, crucial in establishing the teaching of microbiology within the university, where it has remained a much-subscribed part of the BSc in biological sciences and eventually led to separate BScs in microbiology and medical microbiology.

Over three decades, Dr Jones collaborated with Professor Sneath on fundamental contributions to bacterial taxonomy.

Not only did this lead to their reassessing the taxonomy of most medically important bacteria, but they greatly developed the computer-aided analyses of many tests (collectively known as “numerical taxonomy”). This work fed directly into the creation of the commercial identification kits widely used today.

Her eminence in the field was publicly recognised when Dr Jones was appointed president of what was then the Society of Applied Bacteriology (1989-91). She also served as an associate member of the Bergey’s Manual Trust, publisher of Bergey’s Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, a definitive series of treatises that she co-edited and contributed to.

Although she retired from Leicester in 1995, Dr Jones remained an honorary university fellow until 2009. She died in hospital on 15 August and is survived by her husband, Rupert Wood.

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