Michael Jermyn

By Helen WolffJanuary 22nd, 2020

Early life

Mike Jermyn was a New Zealander. He first came to Australia in 1941 to work as a munitions chemist at the Explosives Factory, Defence Force Laboratories.

Tertiary education and early career

He graduated BSc and Msc (First Class Honours in Chemistry) at Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury).

In 1946 he went to Cambridge University to study the cell wall changes which occur in ripening fruit and for this work he was awarded a PhD in 1948.

After studying microbiology for a year, he joined the Biochemistry Unit of the Wool Research Laboratories (later the Division of Protein Chemistry) and so began his 35 year association with CSIRO.

Time at CSIRO

His initial project was investigating fundamental aspects of the action of fungi on textiles and, in particular, the degradation of cellulose, with special emphasis on the enzymes of Stachybotrys atra. His research over the next 20 years encompassed general organic chemistry, carbohydrate chemistry, protein chemistry (particularly glycoproteins), plant biochemistry and microbiology.

Later on his research had centred on the lectins or phyto-haemoglutinins.

He discovered and characterised the beta-lectins and demonstrated their ubiquitous occurrence in plants, and the relationship between pant species and the particular lectins present.

He investigated the possible roles played by lectins in self-recognition by plants, particularly in the reproductive process. This research led to extensive collaboration with groups at Melbourne and La Trobe Universities.

Mike served as acting Chief of the Division on several occasions and represented the Division on various committees. His independence of thought made him particularly effective in his role as the Division’s ombudsman, a duty he performed with tact and understanding.

He contributed greatly to the life and character of the Division. He had an encyclopedic memory and an outstanding general knowledge, which was always at the disposal of his colleagues, In matters pertaining to biology, his knowledge was astonishingly wide and varied. His dry wit and philosophical sense of humour will be long remembered.

His wide range of interests included politics and he served as Councillor to the Northcote City Council. where his scientific background was invaluable to the inner city committee grappling with environmental problems.

He was a prolific reader and art collector, a proficient painter and an enthusiastic cultivator of active plants.


Adapted from a submission to CoResearch, CSIRO’s staff newsletter (no. 324, June 1989), p. 8