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Roger Yate Stanier

1916 - 1982

Roger Stanier was born October 22, 1916, in Victoria, British Columbia. He attended Shawnigan Lake School and then Oak Bay High School. After graduating he received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1936, his M.A. from the University of California in 1940, and his Ph.D. from Stanford University (California) in 1942. In 1956 he married Germaine Cohen-Bazire, a French microbiologist and a distinguished scientist in her own right, and together they had one daughter.

The esteem for the scientific activity of Roger Stanier has been widespread. This commentary brings to the fore the essence of his thinking as relevant today as it was in his time. The condensed description serves as a commemoration so it will not be forgotten that Roger Stanier was a Canadian as well as a World-renowned scientist.

Roger Stanier was a profound scholar whose studies of many years concerned the basic tenets of evolution and adaptation. This distinguished scientist embarked on the study of microorganisms many decades ago and spent his working life as a microbiologist in the United States and later in France. After university (1942-1945), Stanier was engaged as director of the production of penicillin in a Canadian subsidiary of the company Brand in Montreal and then he spent one year of research on bacterial metabolism and physiology with modern pioneer microbiologist Marjorie Stephenson through a Guggenheim Fellowship at Cambridge University. From 1947 he devoted twenty-four years to the University of California at Berkeley where he attained the position of professor and chairman. During his years at Berkeley, Stanier made many fundamental contributions to our understanding of the microbial world. In 1957, with outstanding collaborators, he produced what was to become the leading textbook on microbiology during his time, entitled The Microbial World. This text was subsequently published in five editions over the course of thirty years. In 1971, Stanier and his family moved to France and together joined the Pasteur Institute. Roger Stanier assumed the position of "chef de service" of the Microbial Physiology Unit. However, throughout his life, he maintained his Canadian citizenship.

From early days, taxonomy presented a constant challenge to Stanier, and his interest in the subject drew him into the Bergey's Manual Trust during the years of its gestation. The Bergey's Manual developed into the scholarly authority for species recognition. Roger Stanier did much for its character and content, which gave him a wide view of microbiology, and his interest evolved on a broad scale. His brilliant effort to bridge the gaps in our knowledge of complex evolutionary development helped to characterize the microbial world.

By depicting the course of evolution in terms of efficient endocytosis, Stanier directed attention to organellar structures and their eventual symbiotic relationships. He explained that the variety of cytoplasmic structures bearing color pigments really reflected ancient evolutionary diversity. Photopigment synthesis of free-living forms will have been preserved in the photosynthetic organelles. In time, nuclear organization prevented the evolutionary paths of co-symbionts from freely going their own way. His exceptional insight led him to appreciate the evolutionary significance of bacterial photosynthesis. It was the basis by which he traced the adaptation of organisms from anoxygenic (anaerobic) to oxygenic (aerobic) life forms. He realized that pigments in microorganisms played the important role of trapping energy from light and produced a turning point in evolution. Selection in the emerging eukaryotic cell would have centered on improved efficacy of predation. He then fathomed that special relationships of microbial groups with unique physiological properties tend to occur, in order to establish a shared opportunity for their survival.

When Stanier turned his attention to the habitat of microorganisms to explain the selective pressures in a natural environment, he was able to foresee the connection between symbiotic relationships and microbial ecology. He was concerned that real changes would not be recognized except under authentic environmental conditions that ensured the significant connections in the microenvironment. Stanier understood that the key to change was the availability of energy and diversity of mechanisms for its generation.

Roger Stanier's intense interest in adaptation concerned multiple simultaneous adaptation in enzyme formation conceived as a systematic format at a basic biochemical level. The presence of a control mechanism was considered a stable character, which eventually showed that pathways could be regulated, and that the control would in turn tend to be conserved for this purpose in a particular biological group. He not only systematically clarified pathway metabolism, but also provided the basis upon which the linkage to other biochemical pathways could be envisioned. It illustrated alternative pathways and detailed proof of microbial behavior in a particular biochemical niche.

In emphasizing evolution and adaptation, Stanier described the organic environment as consisting of both systematic and fluctuating occurrences, thus enabling organisms to move towards successive adaptation. He defined systematic variations as those that involved gradual unidirectional and fluctuating variations as short-term changes. Systematic events dealt with molding of the genotype, allowing for an organism to be selected to fit conditions of its environment in a geological time slot. Fluctuating events dealt with the change during a period of observation just sufficient to assess and pinpoint any pattern in those events that permit possible selection of different genotypes.

However, even with successive adaptation in nature, he recognized that any mutation could result in a disaster if it interfered with the competitive edge of an organism. Hence, an organism must retain that certain array of genes that gives it maximum fitness to ensure its environmental survival. Photopigments are of great biological significance, their importance being to permit the co-existence of different kinds of photosynthetic organisms in one habitat. Their ability to absorb light from certain regions of the solar spectrum benefited the co-existing symbionts. Thus, Stanier formulated the ingredients for analyzing symbiosis according to the degree of intimacy, the balance of advantage, and the extent of dependence of each symbiont. The concurrent development in genetic structure led to a more consistent gene makeup.

Roger Stanier's approach was highly influential because he felt that the difficult questions facing biology should also include microorganisms. By and large, Stanier brought microbiology into the mainstream of the biological sciences. He became renowned for his enormous studies on the fundamentals of microbiology and related biochemistry. His pioneering research concerned enzyme adaptation, the role of pigments, the assimilation of components with regard to chlorophyll, the oxidative processes of aromatic compounds, the comparative biochemistry and evolution of microorganisms, and the establishment of blue-green algae as cyanobacteria. This interest in blue-green algae stemmed from his earlier passion for taxonomy and photosynthesis, and the need to determine the distinction between prokaryotes and higher microbial eukaryotes. In the novel investigation of the blue-green algae, Stanier and his wife, Germaine, stressed structure and function relationships, receiving overwhelming substantiation from increasing microscopy studies.

Although Stanier wasn't known as a mountaineer, he enjoyed the outdoors and would get out when his studies allowed. In 1953 while back in Victoria for a holiday, he participated in one of the first Vancouver Island section of the Alpine Club of Canada trips to Big Interior Mountain with Doctor Mark Mitchell, Rex Gibson, Syd Watts, Connie Bonner, Geoffrey Capes and seven other members.

On January 29, 1982, at the age of sixty-three in his home in Bullion, France, science lost one of its greatest microbiologists when Roger Stanier passed away. During his lifetime, Roger Stanier received many awards and much international recognition from the scientific community including:

Eli Lilly and Company Research Award 1950, American Society for Microbiology;
Honourary Doctor des Science, Peims, 1973;
Honourary Doctor of Science Chicago 1978;
Foreign Member of the Royal Academy of Arts and Science, Amsterdam;
Associate Member of the French Academy of Science, 1981;
Honourary Member, Society for General Microbiology, 1978;
Emil Christian Hansen medal, Carlsberg Research Institute, Denmark, 1976;
(first) Bergey Manual Award, USA, 1978;
Leeuwenhoek Medal, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Science 1980;
Carlos J. Finlay Prize, Cuba, 1980;
Médaille de'or de la Societé d'Encouragement au Progès, France, 1981;
Chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur, France, 1977.

He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society-London (1978) and Foreign Associate of the National Academy of Sciences (1979). In Canada in 2001 a society originally known as the Biological Implications of Pathogenicity (B.I.O.P.) study group which in 1999 became the Stanier Society, was reincorporated to broaden future objectives as the Stanier Institute of Ottawa to honour the name and memory of Doctor Roger Stanier.

Sources: The Genius of Roger Stanier.

Stanier, R.Y. "The journey, not the arrival, matters." Annual Review of Microbiology, 1980. Vol. 34, p. 1-48.

Stanier, R. Y., Doudoroff, M. and Adelberg, E. A. The Microbial World. 1st ed., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice-Hall, 1957.

Stanier, R. Y., Ingraham, J. L., Wheelis, M. L. and Painter, P. R. The Microbial World. 5th ed., Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, USA: Prentice-Hall, 1986.

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