Joel Mandelstam. 13 November 1919 — 20 December 2008

Michael Yudkin


Joel Mandelstam was a pioneer in using bacteria to study fundamental biological phenomena—such as development, differentiation, and the turnover of macromolecules—which had more usually been investigated in higher organisms. He was born in South Africa, but he came to London in 1947 to work for a PhD and spent the remainder of his working life in England. The latter part of his career (from 1966 until his retirement in 1987) was spent as Iveagh Professor of Chemical Microbiology at the University of Oxford, where he built up a highly successful research group studying spore formation in bacteria. When spore-formers are starved, they divide to yield two cells of unequal size, each of which subsequently undergoes major changes in shape and chemical composition. these changes result in the development of the smaller cell into a heat-resistant spore, while the larger cell, having contributed essential components to its fellow, finally lyses and disappears. Mandelstam saw spore formation as a valuable model for both development and differentiation, and the many students, postdoctoral workers and visitors who worked with him during his tenure of the Professorship in Oxford were witness to the creative imagination and the rigour with which he exploited this fruitful insight.