Professor Sir James Baddiley: Biochemist who applied his understanding of organic chemistry to problems in biology

The biochemist James Baddiley was a master of experimentation, with an intuitive ability to deal with the vagaries of organic compounds. Although he was an organic chemist by training, his research brought him increasingly into the field of biochemistry and biology. When each new problem presented itself, he learned or devised the experimental techniques necessary for its solution. He used the methods and insight of the organic chemist to answer important questions in biology, notably with regard to coenzyme structure and function, and the structure of bacterial cell walls.

Baddiley's forebears were farmers in South Yorkshire. His father, also James, broke with tradition and was a distinguished dyestuffs chemist, becoming Perkin Medallist of the Society of Dyers and Colourists, and for many years Director of Research of the Dyestuffs Division of Imperial Chemical Industries. Jim Baddiley was born in 1918 and educated at Manchester Grammar School and Manchester University.

He had the good fortune to begin research in 1941 with Professor A.R. Todd (later Lord Todd, Nobel laureate) who was then establishing his future reputation. He studied the synthesis of nucleosides, the fundamental units of nucleic acids and nucleotide coenzymes and obtained his PhD in 1944. In that year he moved with Todd to Cambridge as an ICI Research Fellow and achieved the synthesis of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the nucleotide concerned with essential energy transformations in all forms of life.

After a spell at the Wenner-Gren Institute in Stockholm, Baddiley returned to a staff appointment at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London. Independent for the first time, he built up a small research group. He collaborated with Fritz Lipmann in Harvard to determine the structure of coenzyme A, a nucleotide derivative of pantothenic acid (one of the B vitamins) involved in the biochemistry of fatty acids and the citric acid cycle. In addition, he published syntheses of the biological methylating agent "active methionine" and codecarboxylase.

When Baddiley moved to King's College, Newcastle (now Newcastle University) in 1955 as Professor of Organic Chemistry, he took with him an intriguing problem which had arisen out of his interest in the way coenzyme A was produced in bacteria. A chance observation at the Lister Institute was exploited and led to the isolation of two new nucleotides, cytidine diphosphate glycerol and cytidine diphosphate ribitol. Due to the small amounts of material available, the structural determinations depended on a combination of chemical and enzymic degradations followed by analysis using paper chromatography, and were completed in 1956.

The next question was the biological role of these nucleotides. Similar nucleotides were known and had been shown to be the biochemical precursors of polymeric materials: a search for such polymers of glycerol phosphate and ribitol phosphate was immediately successful. They were isolated from Gram-positive bacteria and shown to be components of the cell wall and membranes and were given the name "teichoic" acids (from the Greek teichos, a fortified wall) and constituted 30 to 60 per cent of the wall structure. Phosphate groups link the polyol units in the same manner as in the nucleic acids. There had been earlier work by Peter Mitchell and Jennifer Moyle that had indicated that the walls of Gram-positive bacteria contained phosphate derivatives. The cell wall teichoic acids were found to contain sugar residues and the amino acid D-alanine, and to be linked to the main cell wall peptidoglycan structure.

Baddiley's subsequent work in Newcastle was directed towards a comprehensive exploration of the teichoic acids, especially their biosynthesis, function and immunology. He realised that his research was taking him out of the mainstream of organic chemistry and established a separate Microbiological Research Laboratory; in1977, he became Professor of Chemical Microbiology. Many of his research collaborators, obtaining MSc or PhD degrees under his guidance, later went on to make a name for themselves in the field.

Intending to pursue an active retirement, Baddiley left Newcastle in 1981 to take up a senior research fellowship in Hans Kornberg's Biochemistry department at Cambridge. He continued his research there, with post-doctoral assistance, and helped to set up the Cambridge Institute of Biotechnology with support from the university and from industry. He became a Fellow of Pembroke College and served on a number of university and national committees where his experience was much sought after.

Baddiley received many honours for his work: the Meldola Medal of the Royal Institute of Chemistry (1947); the Corday-Morgan Medal and Prize (1952); the Tilden Medal and Lecture (1959) and Pedlar Lecture (1978) of the Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Leeuwenhoek Lecture (1967) and Davy Medal (1974) of the Royal Society. He was elected to the Royal Society in 1961, the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1963, and was knighted in 1977. He was an Honorary Member of the American Society of Biological Chemists and was actively involved in a number of scientific societies and research councils.

A rock climber in his youth, Baddiley had many interests in later life which he attributed in part to a happy childhood and a lack of specialisation at school. He was keen on music, both classical and jazz, and on art and photography. In all of these he was supported by his wife, Hazel (née Townsend), a textile designer, whom he married in 1944. Jim and Hazel made the research group feel like a family and Hazel was active in the wider sphere of Newcastle University and later in Cambridge. They celebrated their diamond wedding in 2004, but Hazel died last year.

Grant Buchanan

James Baddiley, biochemist: born Manchester 15 May 1918; Imperial Chemical Industries Fellow, Cambridge University 1945-49, SERC Senior Research Fellow 1981-85; Swedish Medical Research Council Fellow, Wenner-Gren Institute for Cell Biology, Stockholm 1947-49; staff, Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, London 1949-55; Professor of Organic Chemistry, Newcastle University, (previously King's College, Durham University) 1954-77, Head of School of Chemistry 1968-78, Professor of Chemical Microbiology 1977-83 (Emeritus), Director, Microbiological Chemistry Research Laboratory 1975-83; FRS 1961; Kt 1977; Fellow, Pembroke College, Cambridge 1981-85 (Emeritus); married 1944 Hazel Townsend (died 2007; one son); died Cambridge 17 November 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
musicYou'll have to ask Taylor Swift first
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Maths Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Our exclusive client in St Albans Hertfords...

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Primary Teachers

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Key Stage 2 Teachers needed in Hertfordshir...

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ACCA/CIMA - St Albans, Hertfordshire

£55000 - £58000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A truly exciting opportunity has ari...

Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street

£25000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - Londo...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Why the league system no longer measures up

League system no longer measures up

Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness