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Buchanan, Robert Earle (1883-1972)

Buchanan, Robert Earle (1883-1972)

American microbial taxonomist

Robert Earle Buchanan's contributions to the wider world of microbiology involve the classification of microorganisms and his activity in the expansion of the Society of American Bacteriologists. This expansion was one of the important events that led the Society to become the American Society for Microbiology, the paramount microbiology society in the world.

Buchanan was educated at Iowa State University and subsequently became a faculty member there. He received a B.S. degree in 1904, and a M.S. degree in 1906. After joining the faculty, he became the first head of the Bacteriology Department in 1910. He remained head until his retirement in 1948. He was also the first dean of Industrial Science, first dean of the Graduate College (19191948), and was Director of the Agriculture Experiment Station from 1933 until 1948.

In his research life, Buchanan was a microbial taxonomist, concerned with the classification of microorganisms. This interest led him to serve on the Board of Trustees of the Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology, and to assume the responsibilities of co-editor of the eighth edition of the manual in 1974. The Manual is the definitive reference volume on bacterial classification. Buchanan was also one of the founders of the International Bulletin of Bacterial Nomenclature and Taxonomy in 1951. He served on the first editorial board of the journal. The journal is still published, now as the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Bacteriology.

In 1934, the Society of American Bacteriologists began the process of expansion by adding a branch that represented bacteriologists in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. Buchanan became the first President of the Northwest Branch of the Society in 1935.

Buchanan also founded the Iowa State Journal of Science in 1926. The journal was intended as a forum for the rapid publication of research papers that were too lengthy for publication in other scientific journals. The journal published works from the biological and agricultural sciences and, in 1972, research from the humanities. The journal ceased publication in 1988.

Another landmark publication of Buchanan was in 1960. Then, he published an essay listing the correct Latin forms of chemical elements and compounds that are used in the naming of bacteria , yeasts, many filamentous fungi and some protozoa . This article has proven vital to several generations of bacterial taxonomists.

Buchanan was also active in other international agencies, including the National Research Council, Inter-American Institute of Agricultural Sciences, the President's Committee on Foreign Aid. His service on missions to Greece, the Middle East, and India spread agricultural technology and knowledge of microbiological diseases of agricultural crops around the developing world.

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