Professor John M Wood

In Memoriam Professor John M Wood

John Martin Wood was born on the 22nd of March 1938 in Huddersfield, UK and lost the battle against cancer on February 5th 2008. 

A multitalented young man, he was an accomplished artist, a professional cricketer and a talented footballer, playing for his local team “Huddersfield Town”. However, above all, he will be remembered as an outstanding scientist.

His early career in science took him from his native Yorkshire to America. Completing his PhD at the University of Leeds, UK, in 1964, he moved to the chemistry department of the University of Illinois, USA, to follow his interest in transition metals in biology, researching the structure and function of B12 enzymes, dioxygenases and metabolic cycles for toxic elements.

He became associate professor at the age of 32 and shortly after a sabbatical year as a Guggenheim fellow in Oxford, he was promoted to full professor of biochemistry at the University of Illinois.

His expertise then took him to Minnesota, becoming the first director of the Gray-Freshwater Biological Institute and professor of biochemistry at the University of Minnesota. Here, John Wood led substantial research into the environmental conversion of inorganic metal compounds, the biological synthesis and bio-accumulation of alkyl-lead compounds in food chains, and chemical studies with free and bound Vitamin B12. He was heavily involved in unravelling the mechanism behind Minamata disease. His research on methyl mercury resulted in three Nobel-prize nominations.  Yielding 9 publications in Science and 2 in Nature, amongst others, John Wood served 2 years on the editorial board of Science.

However, in the late 1980’s following a life-changing encounter with his future wife Professor Karin U Schallreuter, John Wood changed his area of research to the field of dermatology and both began a successful partnership lasting over 20 years. With his passion for understanding and teaching the pure fundamentals of chemistry, John Wood became an important contributor to the field of dermatology with emphasis on the biochemistry of epidermal pigmentation, oxidative stress and epidermal free radical defence. This has become especially important with regards to the depigmentation disease vitiligo, but also other disorders.

Together with his wife and with funding from Stiefel Inc, he moved back to England to the University of Bradford as professor for medical biochemistry in 1992. Publishing over 70 original papers in this field, John Wood has had a huge impact in advancing the understanding of the principal biochemical problems in dermatology.

In addition, not only has he contributed significantly to science with his research, he has also been immensely important as an outstanding teacher to countless undergraduate and post-graduate students in Illinois, Minnesota and the UK. He took great pride in imparting his knowledge to his students and he had a gifted ability to teach science in a way that was passionate, exciting and interesting. 

His own passion for science was evident to all of his students and colleagues and this was combined with a great humorous personality and love for life. His humour endeared him to many, ranging from young patients with vitiligo to his university students, and to colleagues within the scientific community.

He will be sorely missed by all who got to know him and none more so than his wife, his 4 children and his beloved 8 grandchildren.

 “Politicians come and go but scientists are here forever” a quote from Professor John M. Wood in April 2006 should be motivation to all of us.

Dancing with the children at the Dead Sea

On the way to the desert Wadi Rum in Jordan with the children group, 2005