Major honour for St Andrews scientist

Thursday 1 May 2014

James NaismithProfessor James Naismith of the University of St Andrews has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

Professor Naismith (45), currently the Director of the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex (BSRC) at St Andrews, is a structural biologist whose work has developed an understanding of the structure and mechanism of proteins in an attempt to develop new approaches to destroy drug resistant bacteria and treat other diseases.

Although most bacterial infections are treatable today, there is serious concern that they could again become a very significant public health problem, unless research yields new ways of tackling the increasing number of drug resistant strains. Prof Naismith’s work is central to the development of new anti-bacterial therapies.   In electing him to a Fellowship, the Royal Society noted that his approach of combining chemistry with biology had revealed new paradigms in the chemistry of living systems.

Recognition for his ground-breaking work at St Andrews comes on the same day that the World Health Organisation announced that antibiotic resistance now poses “a serious worldwide threat” to human health.

Professor Naismith said “The real praise belongs to students, post-docs and technicians who have worked with me over the past twenty years; the science being recognised is a team effort; I thank them.

“I have been very fortunate to have exceptional scientific collaborations with Professor Chris Whitfield (Guelph, Canada), Professors Ian Booth, Marcel Jaspars (both Aberdeen), Professor Ron Hay (Dundee), Dr Campopiano (Edinburgh) and inside St Andrews with Professors Malcolm White, Garry Taylor, Nick Westwood, Andy Smith and David O’Hagan; without their help, talent and insights the quality of the work would have been greatly diminished.

“I also thank the organisations who fund my lab; The Wellcome Trust, European Research Council, European Commission and the BBSRC. St Andrews has been and is a great place to work, the interdisciplinary nature of the BSRC has been central to my work and all my colleagues in BSRC have provided a fantastic scientific atmosphere as well as deeply valued friendship, especially Garry Taylor and Malcolm White.

“I was lucky as a student and as a post-doc to be inspired by fantastic scientific mentors Professors Steve Chapman, Dave Garner, John Helliwell, Bill Hunter and Steve Sprang. In the almost 20 years I have worked at St Andrews I have enjoyed the support of the University and pay tribute to the foresight of Principal Arnott who envisioned bringing together chemistry and biology (and who, with Professor Colin Vincent, gave me a job), Principal Lang who continued this investment and the current Principal, Professor Richardson who not only decided to invest, alongside the Wellcome Trust, in the construction of the BSRC but has also worked extraordinarily hard on our behalf. The love and support of my wife and children are the rock upon which my career is built.

“As a Scot, a Briton and a European, I note that the Royal Society is an undertaking founded by English, Irish and Scottish people that has for 350 years united people to pursue a shared interest. My career has relied on working with and teaching people from across the UK, Europe and the world.

“I have studied and worked in Scotland, England and the USA and I have found as great differences within these countries as between them. Science has no nationality, no borders and is a collective enterprise, things I greatly value. Consequently, I would hate to see new barriers imposed by politicians who seek to divide us as a means to rule over us.”

Professor Naismith joins Professor Peter Bruce (Chemistry) Professor Chris Hawkesworth (Geology), Professors Emeriti Wilson Sibbett (Physics) and Eric Priest (Mathematics) as Fellows of the Royal Society currently working at St Andrews.

St Andrews Principal, Professor Louise Richardson, said:

“My colleagues and I offer our warmest congratulations to Professor Naismith for this well-deserved honour. It is a considerable personal achievement and one that reflects well on St Andrews and the quality of research taking place here.”

The Royal Society was founded in 1660 and is thought to be the oldest continuing learned society in existence. Election to Fellowship is considered a great honour as it denotes that the scientist has made exceptional contributions to scientific knowledge as judged by leading scientists from around the world. Fellows have included Charles Darwin, Dorothy Hodgkin and Isaac Newton.


The Royal Society,, is the UK’s national academy of science and has been at the forefront of enquiry and discovery since its foundation in 1660. Its aims include recognising and supporting excellence in science, stimulating international interaction, furthering the role of science in society, promoting education on science issues and providing independent authoritative advice on matters relating to science, engineering and technology. To be considered for election, a scientist must either be a UK, Commonwealth or Irish citizen working anywhere in the world or if they do not hold such citizenship, then they must currently work in the UK, a Commonwealth country or Ireland.

The BSRC at the University of St Andrews is an interdisciplinary initiative that brings together Chemistry, Physics, Medicine and Biology in a set of purpose built interconnected buildings. The BSRC currently secures over 20% of the University’s external peer reviewed funding for research.

James Naismith was born and raised in Hamilton in the west of Scotland, where he went to local state schools Low Waters Primary and Hamilton Grammar. He is a graduate of Edinburgh (BSc Chemistry, 1989) and Manchester (PhD Structural Biology, 1992) universities.  He was appointed to St Andrews June 1994 and started work in January 1995. He had previously been working as a NATO post-doctoral fellow in Southwestern Medical Centre Dallas Texas.  He is an elected member of the University Court and holds the Chair of Chemical Biology in the School of Chemistry which is part of EaStChem. He became Director of the Biomedical Sciences Research Complex in 2009 and is a fellow of both Society of Biology and Royal Society of Chemistry

Professor Naismith’s other academic achievements include Carnegie PhD Scholarship, NATO fellowship post-doctoral fellowship, BBSRC Career Development Fellowship, Colworth Medal, Corday Morgan Medal, Leverhulme Prize, Carbohydrate Medal, Jeremy Knowles Medal and Cornforth Medal (joint). He has been elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, to membership of European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and to Fellowship of the Academy Medical Science.

Issued by the University of St Andrews

Further information: Niall Scott, Director of Communications

01334 462530, email [email protected]

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