Julian Davies is Emeritus Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Chief Scientific Officer of TerraGen Discovery Inc. Trained as an organic chemist, he switched to molecular microbiology in 1962 when he joined Harvard Medical School. Subsequently, he held academic positions at the University of Wisconsin, University of Geneva, and Institut Pasteur before joining UBC as Head of Microbiology and Immunology in 1992. Davies was Research Director and President of Biogen (Geneva) from 1980-1985 and founded TerraGen Discovery Inc. (Vancouver) in 1996 where he is Chief Scientific Officer. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (London) and the Royal Society of Canada. He is past President of the American Society for Microbiology.
Davies' interests concern various aspects of microbial ecology. In particular, he has studied the origins and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, with special reference to gene capture and horizontal gene transfer. He is also studying the degradation pathways of xenobiotics and lignin-derived products by streptomycetes. The focus of work at TerraGen Discovery Inc. is the study of microbes in the environment with special reference to the predominant non-cultivatable species. Molecular techniques are being used to isolate genes for antibiotic biosynthetic pathways to study their expression in surrogate hosts with the goal of isolating novel secondary metabolites for pharmaceutical application.
Antibiotics for the 21st century
The latter half of the last century saw significant reductions in morbidity and mortality due to infectious diseases following the discovery of antibiotics and the overall improvement of living conditions in industrialised nations. However, the treatment of infectious diseases is presently in a state of crisis as a result of (1) the development of increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance in all type of pathogenic microbes; (2) the emergence and reemergence of various infectious agents of humans which were thought to be controlled (such as tuberculosis) or those that have only recently been identified as pathogens (such as Lyme disease or HIV/AIDS). Many factors have contributed to this state of affairs and major health organisations such as WHO and the FDA (US) have begun to institute worldwide action to attempt to ameliorate the situation. One requirement is the continuing supply of therapeutic agents that can be employed in the (directed) treatment of infection. The discovery of novel antibiotics has not kept up with the development of resistance and as a result, the available compounds have become less and less effective. This is not surprising, since antibiotic resistance in microbes is inevitable; in addition, the situation is compounded by the fact that promiscuous gene transfer is a bacterial life style. Resistance cannot be treated, it can only be delayed. Where will new therapies come from?