Jeffrey Harborne 1928—2002
Distinguished phytochemist Jeffrey B. Harborne passed away on July 21, 2002, after a long illness. Professor Harborne was head of the Department of Botany and former director of the Harris Garden of the School of Plant Sciences, University of Reading. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his scientific achievements in plant chemistry, including the use of secondary compounds in taxonomy.
He was educated at Wycliffe College and the University of Bristol (B.Sc. 1949, Ph.D. 1953 and D.Sc. 1966). After a postdoctoral position at the University of California, he began his long phytochemical career as a biochemist at the John Innes Institute in 1955 where he carried out some of the first studies on the genetics of flower pigments. In 1965 he moved to the University of Liverpool to work on the chemosystematics of the family Umbelliferae with Prof. V.H. Heywood, whom he followed to the University of Reading in 1968 as Research Fellow and then Reader in the Department of Botany. He was awarded a Personal Professorship in 1976 and was appointed to the Chair of Botany in 1987. After retiring in 1993 he remained active in the Department of Botany both in teaching and research as Emeritus Professor.
Prof. Harborne built a worldwide reputation as an acknowledged expert in flavonoids, chemosystematics and ecological biochemistry and as one of the best known workers in the field of co-evolutionary biology in relation to secondary metabolites. He is particularly noted for his pioneering studies on the identification and distribution of anthocyanins and other flavonoids in higher plants and for his part in establishing the subject of chemosystematics (with Drs. E.C. Bate-Smith and T. Swain). This work led to the publication of his now classic book, Comparative Biochemistry of the Flavonoids. He published more than 40 scientific books and authored some 270 review articles and research papers.
Over time, his research became ecologically orientated, especially towards the identification of insect antifeedants and of antimicrobial substances. His undergraduate textbook, Introduction to Ecological Biochemistry, saw four editions (1993, Academic Press) and is translated into Japanese, German, Portuguese, Spanish, and Russian.
In 1995, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, which describes his research as "imaginative, yet his results are presented soberly and are completely reliable."
He also received several international awards for his outstanding achievements in the fields of chemotaxonomy and coevolutionary biology. These include the Gold Medal in Botany of the Linnean Society of London (1985), the first Silver Medal of the Phytochemical Society of Europe (1986), an award from the Phytochemical Societies of Europe and North America "for outstanding lifelong contributions to the discipline of phytochemistry throughout the world"(1992), the Silver Medal of the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1993), and the Pergamon Phytochemistry Prize (1993).
He was admitted as a fellow of the Institute of Biology, and represented plant sciences on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Education, a journal published by the Institute.
He also served 32 years as associate editor, executive editor and, ultimately, editor-in-chief of the journal Phytochemistry, the international journal of plant biochemistry and molecular biology, and the official journal of the Phytochemical Society of Europe and the Phytochemical Society of North America. That journal honored him twice with theme editions and the publisher, Elsevier, sponsored a symposium at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew to honor and thank him for his years of service.
"Jeffrey Harborne was the most remarkable phytochemist I have ever known,"recalls Tom Mabry, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Cell and Developmental Biology at the University of Texas at Austin. Mabry co-edited The Flavonoids (1975, Chapman and Hall Ltd.) with Harborne. "His common sense logic and insights as well as his drive for excellence always represented a beacon for me. I will forever remember him as my 'phytochemistry hero.'"
He is survived by his wife Jean, two sons, and seven grandchildren.
[Sources: The University of Reading School of Plant Sciences Herbarium News <www.herbarium.reading.ac.uk/HerbNews>.
E. Arthur Bell. Jeffrey Barry Harborne (1928-2002) [obituary]. Phytochemistry 2002;61:219-20.]