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Edward James Wood (1904–1972)

by Sophie C. Ducker and John Jenkin

This article was published:

Edward James Ferguson Wood (1904-1972), marine microbiologist, was born on 23 June 1904 at Eagle Junction, Brisbane, son of Australian-born parents James Boyne Wood, engineer, and his wife Maud, née Barrymore. 'Fergie' attended Eagle Junction State School and Brisbane Grammar School where he won the Lilley silver medal and the Russell Walker Grant memorial medal. At the University of Queensland (B.Sc., 1927; M.Sc., 1929; B.A., 1935; D.Sc., 1966), he gained first-class honours in botany (plant pathology) with a thesis on Fiji disease in sugar-cane. From 1925 he had held a cadetship with the Department of Agriculture and Stock. He remained with the department as an assistant-pathologist in the Queensland Bureau of Sugar Experiment Stations. In 1929-34 he studied English and philosophy at the university in the evenings. At St James's Church of England, Yeppoon, on 29 April 1931 he married Hazel Jessie Fisher.

In 1933 Wood joined the Commonwealth Department of Health, Melbourne, as a technical assistant but he resigned to take up a lectureship in bacteriology at the University of Melbourne in April 1934. On 1 September 1937 he was appointed an assistant research officer in the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research's new fisheries investigations section, located in the bacteriology department of the university. In June 1938 he moved to Sydney when the section was transferred to Cronulla. He was promoted in 1958 to principal research scientist in the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization's division of fisheries and oceanography.

As a marine scientist, Wood carried out his earliest work on the processing and bacterial spoilage of fish. After the Japanese supply of agar—necessary for biomedical research—ceased in World War II, he analysed the properties of this algal product and explored possible local sources of the substance; his investigations included a survey of Australian seaweeds. Under the influence of the Dutch microbiologist Baas Becking, Wood then turned to the study of bacterial activity in oceans and estuaries, undertaking important work on seagrasses, marine pollution and underwater fouling. Next, he concentrated on ground-breaking, fundamental research into phytoplankton organisms, particularly diatoms and dinoflagellates in Australian and New Zealand waters. While with the C.S.I.R. and C.S.I.R.O., he published some seventy papers and held two visiting appointments in the United States of America.

Wood's difficult personality led to some alienation from his colleagues. In 1963, anticipating that he was about to be retired from C.S.I.R.O., he accepted the post of professor of marine microbiology and deputy-chairman of the Institute of Marine Science, University of Miami, U.S.A. He wrote Studies in Microbial Ecology of the Australasian Region (Weinheim, Germany, 1964)—which was accepted for his doctorate—Marine Microbial Ecology (London, 1965), Microbiology of Oceans and Estuaries (Amsterdam, 1967), Dinoflagellates of the Caribbean Sea and Adjacent Areas (Coral Gables, Florida, U.S.A., c.1968) and The Living Ocean (London, 1975); he also co-edited two books. His colleague R. E. Johannes described him as a pioneer in 'the emergence of marine microbiology as a recognized scientific discipline', and praised him for 'continually generating novel and stimulating hypotheses'.

In 1970 Wood returned to Sydney. The United Nations invited him to act as an adviser on harvesting the sea to provide food for people in developing countries but ill health intervened. He died of cancer on 15 May 1972 at Caringbah, and was cremated. His wife and their three daughters survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Coresearch, no 55, Oct 1963, no 160, July 1972
  • Australian Marine Science Bulletin, July 1972
  • Search (Sydney), 3, no 9, Sept 1972
  • Wood personal file (CSIRO Archives, Canberra)
  • S50, minutes of meeting of Science Executive Committee, 9 Dec 1964 (University of Queensland Archives).

Citation details

Sophie C. Ducker and John Jenkin, 'Wood, Edward James (1904–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 24 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (Melbourne University Press), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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