International Association for Lichenology

Sir David Smith

Sir David Smith

Professor Sir David Smith is well known to symbiosis researchers for his elegant studies and lucid papers on the physiology of algal symbioses with lichen-forming fungi or with marine and freshwater invertebrates such as green hydra, corals, molluscs and flatworms. These truly interdsciplinary studies were conducted in search of common functional principles. David Smith has shaped our thinking about symbiosis in general and the lichen symbiosis in particular. He has co-authored the influential Biology of Symbiosis (with Angela E. Douglas), and co-edited five books, including Cell to cell signals in plant, animal and microbial symbiosis. In inumerable review articles, book chapters, and in especially well presented lectures David Smith clearly illustrated the peculiarities of lichen symbiosis to both lichenologists and non-lichenologists. Unforgettable to all attendants, and in its published form an obligate read for all lichenologists, is his delightful 1978 General Lecture entitled “What can lichens tell us about real fungi?” D.C. Smith (1978), held at IMC2 in Tampa.

Beginning with his doctoral thesis in the laboratory of Prof. Jack Harley, leading expert on mycorrhizal symbiosis at Oxford University, David Smith focused on the centerpiece of lichen symbiosis, the exchange of water and nutrients between the symbionts. As a young postdoc he then adapted the newly available radioactive tracer technique to the lichen symbiosis and developed the so-called isotope trapping or inhibition technique, which was later successfully applied by a whole generation of lichen physiologists. Through his efforts, the centrally important role of sugar alcohols in lichen symbiosis was recognised. Numerous talented students and co-workers joined David Smith’s team at Oxford, later at Bristol and again Oxford University. The result was an impressive series of publications on the physiology of lichen symbiosis. Many of his former students became distinguished in their own right, notably Prof. David Richardson and Prof. Allan Green (both experimental lichenologists), Dr. Angela Douglas and others.

David Smith was founding member of the British Lichen Society and served as its president. He also presided over numerous other scientific societies and committees, and he is currently the president of The Linnean Society and a trustee of World Wide Fund for Nature UK. In addition to his scientific accomplishments, David Smith’s modesty, generosity and beautiful humour and his talent for leadership have earned him great respect throughout the academic world. Because of his interest in all aspects of academic life and willingness to apply his expertise and reputation to create the best possible environment for other scientists, David Smith accepted an appointment as Principal and Vice Chancellor of Edinburgh University. One of his outstanding virtues is to speak up for those who tend to get swept to the margins or beyond by mainstream waves in science or educational systems: lichenologists among mycologists (also at IMC2), taxonomists among experimental biologists, science teachers in re-structured educational systems, and so on.

In recognition of the many accomplishments, David Smith has received honorary degrees from eleven universities in Great Britain and North America. In 1986 he was conferred a knighthood for his innovative scientific work and his tireless efforts on behalf of British science. His pioneering work in experimental lichenology, his interdisciplinarity and support of younger colleagues make him a deserving recipient of the Acharius Medal.

Rosmarie Honegger, Zürich