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April 19, 2004

In Memoriam

Harry Beevers, eminent plant physiologist, dies at 80

By Tim Stephens

Harry Beevers, one of the leading plant physiologists of the 20th century and a professor emeritus of biology at UCSC, died on April 14. He was 80. Beevers died at his home in Carmel, California, after a brief illness.

Photo of Harry Beevers
Harry Beevers joined the UCSC faculty in 1969 as a professor of biology.

Born in Durham, England, in 1924, Beevers earned a B.Sc. in botany and a Ph.D. in plant physiology from Durham University. After a postdoctoral appointment at Oxford University, he joined the faculty of Purdue University in 1950. Beevers spent 19 years at Purdue, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1958. He joined the UCSC faculty in 1969 as a professor of biology.

Beevers made major contributions to the understanding of plant metabolism and plant cell biology. He and his coworkers worked out important pathways of plant metabolism and showed the locations of key enzymes for the conversion of fats to carbohydrates in fatty seed tissues. His discovery of the glyoxysome, a small structure or organelle within some plant cells, led others to discover similar organelles called leaf peroxisomes, and stimulated further understanding of the role of peroxisomes in animals.

"Harry Beevers was one of the giants in the field of plant metabolism, one of only a handful of biochemists who could claim to have discovered a new cellular organelle," said Lincoln Taiz, professor of professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at UCSC and a friend of Beevers.

"He was also a charismatic leader in the field of plant biology whose opinions always carried great weight in any debate. To me, he was a mentor and role model, someone I admired tremendously," Taiz said.

Much of Beevers's research focused on the metabolism of the germinating castor bean, which efficiently converts the oil in its seed to sugar. No mammalian cell is capable of this conversion. In castor beans, enzymes in the glyoxysomes convert oil into sugar to provide energy for the growing seedling during germination, after which the organelles disappear. The glyoxysome turned out to be the first of a new class of similar plant organelles called microbodies.

Beevers also investigated other kinds of plant organelles, other aspects of plant metabolism, and the transport of materials within and between plant cells. He wrote more than 200 research papers and one book, Respiratory Metabolism in Plants (Harper, 1961).

In addition to his research, Beevers was widely appreciated as a mentor to young biologists and a brilliant lecturer who could electrify an audience with his eloquence and wit. Many of his students and postdoctoral fellows went on to become leaders in the field. He enjoyed teaching, and his courses at UCSC received rave reviews from students.

UCSC honored Beevers as the Faculty Research Lecturer in 1976. In 1991, a special symposium of the American Society of Plant Biologists was held in his honor at UC Riverside. In 1999, Purdue University recognized Beevers in its "Book of Great Teachers," a permanent wall display in the Purdue Memorial Union.

A member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Beevers received numerous honors and awards, including honorary doctorates from Purdue, the University of Nagoya in Japan, and the University of Newcastle on Tyne in England. In 1995, Oxford University named a building in his honor, the Harry Beevers Laboratory in the Plant Sciences Department.

In the early 1960s, Beevers served as president of the American Society of Plant Physiologists. He won the organization's Stephen Hales Prize in 1970 and its Charles Reid Barnes Life Membership Award in 1999.

Beevers is survived by his wife of 54 years, Jean Beevers of Carmel; son Michael Beevers of Fresno; sisters Win Allinson of Ripon, England, Edna Emerson of Weardale, England, Elsie Chapman of Portsmouth, England, and Vera West of Canterbury, England; brothers Alec Beevers of Stourbridge, England, and Leonard Beevers of Norman, Oklahoma; one granddaughter, Angela; eight nieces and six nephews.

No services have been scheduled as yet. Contributions in memory of Harry Beevers may be made to the UCSC Arboretum, 1156 High St., Santa Cruz, CA 95064.

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