Lives of the fellows

Ephraim Saul Anderson

b.28 October 1911 d.14 March 2016 CBE(1976) MB BS Durh(1934) Dip Bact(1948) MD(1953) FRCPath(1963) FRS(1968) FIBiol(1973) Hon DSc Newcastle(1975) FRCP(1975)

Ephraim Saul Anderson, known as ‘Andy’ to his friends and colleagues, was a pioneering microbiologist who highlighted the process by which bacteria becomes resistant to antibiotics. He was born in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, into a Jewish family originally from Estonia. His father, Benjamin Anderson, was a draper. His mother was Ada Anderson. His brother, Manuel Anderson [Munk’s Roll, Vol.XII, web], also became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians. Anderson was educated at Rutherford College, Newcastle, and then gained a scholarship to study medicine at King’s College Medical School, Newcastle, then part of Durham University. He qualified in 1934.

He was a house surgeon in Newcastle, at the Royal Victoria Infirmary, and was then an assistant in general practice for four years, from 1935 to 1939. He was subsequently a house physician in Swansea.

In 1940 he joined the RAMC, first as a general duty officer and later (from 1943) as a graded pathologist and then specialist pathologist. He spent several years in the Middle East, eventually heading a field investigation team with particular responsibility for tracing typhoid carriers.

Following his demobilisation, he was a registrar in bacteriology at the Postgraduate Medical School in Hammersmith, London. He then joined the Enteric Reference Laboratory, part of the Public Health Laboratory Service, in April 1947. He went on to become the deputy director (in 1952) and then the director (from 1954).

His major research focus was on the control of gastrointestinal infections, including typhoid fever. He gained worldwide recognition for his studies of plasmids (tiny packages of DNA, separate from the nucleus), showing how they could spread antibiotic resistant genes through a bacterial population. He also went on to show how the wide-scale use of antibiotics in agriculture as well as medicine was fuelling the emergence of resistant strains. He campaigned vigorously for the more prudent use of antibiotics, and in the process won few friends among politicians, agricultural and pharmaceutical companies.

Earlier in his career, in 1964, he showed, with Betty Hobbs, that a typhoid fever epidemic in Aberdeen was probably caused by Salmonella typhi, which had entered a badly sealed can of corned beef when it was put into contaminated water in Argentina to cool. They also suggested that an outbreak in Oswestry in 1948 was probably caused in a similar way.

He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1968 and was awarded a CBE in 1976.

At the time of his election to the fellowship of the RCP he listed his hobbies as music and photography. In 1959 he married Carol Jean Thompson, the daughter of a company director. They divorced in the late 1970s. They had three sons.

RCP editor

[The Guardian 22 March 2006; The Independent 23 March 2006; The Times 27 March 2006; The Lancet 2006 367 1392; The Bulletin of the Royal College of Pathologists 136: October 2006 p.55-7]

(Volume XII, page web)

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