• Microbigals

The History of Dr. Harold Amos: First Black Microbiologist, Francophile, Teacher, Lover of Science

Updated: Nov 28, 2020




Dr. Harold Amos's Inspiration

Do you have a book that completely changed your life? A book that maybe a parent or a relative gave you when you were young that you still hold dear to your heart? Mine is “Guess How Much I Love You”. A delightful little book about how we are unable to truly measure love. For Dr. Harold Amos, his book was on Louis Pasteur, now there’s a guy that maybe more obsessed with microbes than microbigals! However, his love of microbes may partially stem from his hatred of the family goat as Louis Pasteur used goats for experimentation which, I guess, young Amos wished he could do to his goat. And If Pasteur sounds vaguely familiar, go visit your milk carton. But this post is not about pasteurization, but Dr. Harold Amos who was born in 1918 in NJ.



Amos The Francophile

Harold Amos was a top student throughout his life, graduating summa cum laude from Springfield College Mass in 1941 with a major in biology and a minor in Chemistry. Shortly after graduation, he was swept up in the war to go fight for Uncle Sam, but the war could not keep him away from his passion, microbiology! As soon as he was able, he enrolled into Harvard Medical School to get BOTH a MD and PHD, talk about a smarty-pants. Growing up on the teachings of Louis Pasteur and through his time in the war, he became a huge Francophile. Then his lifelong dream came true, Louis Pasteur may have passed away in 1895, but in 1946, Amos won a Fulbright Fellowship to study at the Pasteur Institute in Paris; it must have been a big ‘fan-boy’ moment for him. On the weekdays he would study E. coli metabolism with Georges Cohen and on the weekends he'd hanging out at the St. Germain de Pres Quartier, kickin’ it with the top jazz musicians of the time including my favorites, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald!



The Research

I was actually able to dig up one of his papers which you can find here. The paper states:



Threonine and isoleucine are amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. They are used in all walks of life from microbes to us. We use them to produce a variety if things including hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes. Amos and Cohen were interested in the metabolism of these bacteria. Microbes will always be better chemists then we will ever be. Once we understand how metabolic pathways work in microbes, we can manipulate this pathway to produce products that can assist in a number of ways from human to environmental health..


The Legacy

Dr. Harold Amos did some amazing things for microbiology. He was both the first black microbiologist and the first black chair of the Harvard medical school. He was also the recipient of the Charles Drew World Medical Prize and the National Academy of Science’s Public Welfare Medal. He gained full professor much faster than Hinton and was became professor emeritus in 1988. His research was vast and included studying how bacterial RNA can synthesize things like insulin. After 50 years at Harvard, he retired but soon picked up being the director of the Minority Medical Faculty Development Program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Being the workaholic that he was, Amos was still a prominent researcher in the Murphy lab at Boston University until nearly his death in 2003.


If you have any thoughts about this topic, or if we missed something please let us know by leaving a comment or sending us an email, we'd love to hear from you!


If you liked this article and would like to read more about important black figures in microbiology, click on the links below.


  1. Onesimus: the black slave that helped to stop smallpox

  2. William Augustus Hinton: First Black Harvard Professor and Syphilis Researcher

  3. Dr. Ruth Ella Moore: Fashionista, TB Researchers, First Black American to get a Ph.D. in Bacteriology

  4. Dr. Harold Amos: First Microbiologist, Francophile, Teacher, Lover of Science!

  5. Jane Hinton- Co-developer of Mueller-Hinton Agar, One of the first Black Americans to earn a VMD

  6. Jessie Isabelle Price: The Duck Doctor

  7. The Unethical Study That Never Should Have Happened

  8. Hell of a lot of HeLa Cells: The Life and Legacy of the “Immortal” Black Women

Sources

Amos, H. & Cohen, G. N. Amino acid utilization in bacterial growth. II. A study of threonine-isoleucine relationships in mutants of Escherichia coli. Biochem. J57, 338–343 (1954)


McFadden, C., Bergan, B., Lang, F. & Nevils-Karakeci, R. 31 Highly Influential African American Scientists. Interesting Engineering https://interestingengineering.com/31-highly-influential-african-american-scientists (2018)


Dr. Harold Amos, the first Black microbiologist. http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2020/apr/02/dr-harold-amos-first-black-microbiologist/


Mitchell, E. Black History Month: Leaders in Microbiology. http://blog.eoscu.com/blog/black-history-month-leaders-in-microbiology


American Society for Microbiology. Early African American Microbiologists: Making Contributions/Overcoming Barriers - Microbe 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQaOzdcl7gM (2017)

Dr. Harold Amos, the first Black microbiologist. http://amsterdamnews.com/news/2020/apr/02/dr-harold-amos-first-black-microbiologist/


Mitchell, E. Black History Month: Leaders in Microbiology. http://blog.eoscu.com/blog/black-history-month-leaders-in-microbiology


American Society for Microbiology. Early African American Microbiologists: Making Contributions/Overcoming Barriers - Microbe 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQaOzdcl7gM (2017)


McFadden, C., Bergan, B., Lang, F. & Nevils-Karakeci, R. 31 Highly Influential African American Scientists. Interesting Engineering https://interestingengineering.com/31-highly-influential-african-american-scientists (2018)

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