|Ahead of print publication
Remembering mike bedford (21.5.1932–24.2.2018)
Trevor G Cooper
|Date of Web Publication||08-Jun-2018|
Trevor G Cooper,
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Article in PDF
John Michael Bedford [Figure 1] studied at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge University (1952–1958), and gained his BA (1955) and MA (1958) in Natural Sciences, with postgraduate training in Veterinary Medicine and Surgery (Vet MB 1958). He had academic appointments as a Fellow at Bristol University (1958–1959), a scientist with MC Chang at the Worcester Foundation in Shrewsbury, MA, USA (1959–1961), and studied for a PhD in Physiology with Professor Amoroso at the University of London (1961–1965). During this time, he was also a lecturer at the Royal Veterinary College (1961–1966) and a teacher at the University of London (1965). He then returned to Worcester (1966–1967) and thereafter was an Assistant Professor of Anatomy at Columba University, New York (1967–1970), Associate Professor (1970–1972), and from 1972 to 2000, both Professor of Reproductive Biology and Professor of Cell Biology and Anatomy at Cornell University Medical College (now Weill Cornell Medical College). He became the Percy and Harold Uris Professor of Reproductive Biology (1981–2000) and Professor Emeritus of Reproductive Biology in Obstetrics and Gynecology (2000) at Cornell University. From 1986 to 1990, he was the Director of the in vitro fertilization laboratories at Cornell.
Mike's early very broad exposure (both academically and geographically) to different institutions and disciplines was reflected in his later, similarly broad, research interests. In wishing to celebrate his multifaceted contributions to andrology, and reproduction in general, I approached Mike's students, scientists who had worked with him or had met him at meetings, together with others suggested by these colleagues, for any comments they may wish to recount about him, his work or how he had affected their research careers. These are below from alphabetically listed colleagues, with apologies to anyone overlooked who were his friends and colleagues, including Harry Moore, Brian Setchell and Roger Short, but who were not able to write. It provides ample testament to the huge influence he had in the field of reproductive biology.
| John Aitken|| |
Mike was a very original thinker and a great mentor for those of us interested in the cell biology of spermatozoa. Indeed, it was a challenging article written by Mike that got me interested in this field in the first instance. A distinguished founding father of our discipline, his contributions to an entire generation of gamete biologists are immeasurable. He viewed the entire process of sperm maturation and fertilization from a unique comparative, evolutionary, perspective that cut across species boundaries – he will be greatly missed.
| Maria Christina Avellar|| |
I was introduced to Mike Bedford by Paty Cuasnicu in a Testis Workshop Meeting, and later I had the chance to get to know him better at the International Conference on the Epididymis in China. He was not only an energetic and creative researcher but also a magnanimous gentleman who was generous with his time and wonderful insights. We are fortunate to have these bright lights in our field to shine a path for us to continue his legacy. He will be missed, but we will do well to apply the inspiration his gifts have provided to us.
| Bill Breed|| |
Mike Bedford came to visit us at the University of Adelaide in South Australia in the early 1990s on a Distinguished Visitors Scholar Scheme run by the university. His initial aim was to explore the morphological changes that take place to spermatozoa as they travel down the epididymis in a small insectivorous marsupial, Sminthopsis crassicaudata, that we had breeding at the university at that time. However, within a few days of arriving, Mike discovered that one could observe sperm behaviour in the female tract after mating by placing the dissected oviduct on a slide and observe sperm behaviour in situ by Nomarski differential interference microscopy. This resulted in a study of changes in sperm behaviour in the higher reaches of the female tract that included a reorientation of the head on the tail and interactions between the sperm and zona pellucida around the recently ovulated egg. Mike's enthusiasm and insight into fundamental questions of sperm behaviour was a delight to listen to. He readily interacted and enthused postgraduate students at that time and gave two most informative and thought-provoking seminars.
Over the subsequent years, Mike [Figure 2] has been in touch now and then probing various questions on the evolution of sperm behaviour in various species of mammals. Only a month or so ago did he send me a draft of a manuscript entitled, “On the tail of the epididymis” which ranged widely across not only various species of monotreme, marsupial, and eutherian mammals, but also included discussion on sperm behaviour in birds and reptiles.
|Figure 2: Mike on a ferry crossing the River Murray on one of his trips out into the surrounding South Australian outback.|
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His broad comparative approach to reproductive biological questions, especially on sperm behaviour, together with his delightful sense of humour, will be sorely missed by all of us here in South Australia who knew him.
| Trevor G Cooper|| |
Geoff Waites introduced me to Mike at an SSF meeting at the beginning of my career. He stood out by his height and attire (blue jeans and black-and-white striped shirt rather than formal suit). His slow delivery in measured tones of well thought-out arguments impressed this novice (who had to look up new words such as Therian and Sauropod). His vision was not only astute but also wide angled. His breadth of research covered an array of exotic species, deliberately chosen to pinpoint some aspects of reproductive biology or sperm behaviour. He studied problems that most of us had not even considered problems, notably for me that a covering of fur would reduce cooling by the scrotum, which accepted wisdom had considered to be favourable to spermatogenesis. What we had all noticed, but only Mike remarked on, was that the only bald scrotal patch lies directly over the cauda epididymidis so that sperm storage rather than spermatogenesis may have been the prime mover in the evolutionary descent into the scrotum of the testis, secondary to its attached epididymis.
He demonstrated maturational changes to spermatozoa within the epididymis and addressed the associated problem of whether these changes were due to time alone or specific epididymal secretions, and the answer (both) was to define the course of much of my own research career. It was also the basis for all the huge strides in epididymal function, culminating in our knowledge first of proteins, then genes, then proteomes, and currently microRNAs controlling gene expression.
Ching-Hei and I met Mike again in 1983 in Beijing when he showed us a stone chop (name-stamp) he had acquired in Hangzhou with his Chinese name derived phonetically from “Bedford;” its translation: “White Buddha”! Soon after our move to Germany, Mike was invited to give the opening talk of an Epididymal Symposium held in a castle in the snow-covered Bavarian alps, but it was planned in the evening after a heavy German meal and very much and very good red wine. He remembers seeing the audience gradually nodding off during his 2-h lecture and vowed never again to give postprandial talks. Latterly, he occasionally requested me to look over a new manuscript, and more recently, we compared notes on cheap (Hong Kong) versus free (in his US state) public travel for us old-age pensioners. The field has lost an important and inspiring scientist.
| Paty Cuasnicu|| |
I would like to refer to an important aspect of Mike's distinguished career which is his enormous influence on those that have worked with him. I met Mike Bedford in 1984 when I began to work at his laboratory in Cornell University as an NIH postdoctoral fellow and have been the last of a list of postdoctoral fellows and colleagues that worked in his lab. From the very beginning, Mike taught me how to see things and think about them differently from the way I was used to. Sentences such as “try to think as if you were the sperm” were very common (I always failed to convince him that it would be easier for me to think as an oocyte). His capacity to carefully observe different situations or events making really interesting findings was just remarkable. Moreover, he was one of the few investigators I know that have always compared and analyzed his observations in numerous species arriving to conclusions that might explain many of the interesting changes in both the gamete design and the fertilization strategies during evolution.
Despite his being an already recognized scientist, I was surprised by the time he used to spend in the lab carrying out the experiments by himself. A simple thing such as a sperm tail moving quickly in the perivitelline space of an oocyte could be a reason of enjoyment for him. I, as many others, have been profoundly influenced by his attitude and conduct toward science, and I hope to be able to transmit what I have learned from him to my students.
I was shocked when I knew that Mike had passed away because he was still active and writing interesting papers on the aspects of reproduction not usually addressed by other researchers and discussed from a different, broad, and original perspective. In fact, he mentioned to me in his last message of January 10, 2018, that he had just finished a mini review on The Tail of the Epididymis for BOR, which would probably be “his last sermon,” he said.
There are few scientists like Mike Bedford and I had the privilege of having been one of his fellows and friends. I will miss him a lot!
| Pedro Esponda|| |
I met Mike Bedford in the Spermatology meeting held in Seillac (France) in 1982 and we talked about the possibility of my doing a stay in his laboratory at Cornell University. In January 1983, I traveled to New York where I remained for more than 3 years. During this period, I got to know Mike well and I admired him by several reasons. He was a real biologist and each working idea was tackled from different aspects (anatomical, physiological, biochemical, ethological, etc.). This fact, of course, created more doubts about the problem, but conclusions achieved were scientifically more correct. He tried to study problems from the comparative and phylogenetic point of view thinking that this could give important answers to mammalian reproductive questions.
On the other hand, in addition to being a thinker, he was a real laboratory worker and he usually helped us in experiments. We spent many nights observing rat intercourse to get gametes or fertilized eggs. Mike was also extremely perfectionist when planning experiments and writing papers. Today, his papers and particularly his reviews are real examples of this perfection. By these and other details, I cannot forget Mike Bedford.
But Mike was not only a professor, he was also a good friend. From 1983, we lived many situations and discussed others apart from science. In November 2015, he visited me and lodged in my house in Madrid. Those were 3 nice days in which we walked, talked, visited museums, and also discussed. It was the last time I saw him [Figure 3].
|Figure 3: I include two pictures: the left is from 1985 in some place in upstate New York, and the right is from 2001 in the country home of Mike and Rita.|
Click here to view
I want to say: “Thank you Mike for all you gave me. It's been a privilege to have you in my life.”
| Chris Ford|| |
I never had the privilege of knowing Mike Bedford well. Whilst we were in Reading to me, he was like a mythological hero, often discussed but never seen. Sometimes, he passed through on his way to visit family in Devon and met up with Geoff Waites in transit, but I never met him on these occasions. His work on the epididymis, directly through the literature and indirectly through Geoff and yourself (Trevor), was immensely influential in persuading me to embrace the concept of the epididymal contraceptive. Once I changed sides to fertility research, his propositions that the human epididymis was inadequate and later that mechanical force and not proteolytic digestion was responsible for sperm–zona penetration affected my thinking profoundly. In an age when science is becoming increasingly dependent on technology, Mike was remarkable for his ability to achieve insight through observation and clear reasoning. A remarkable talent has been lost.
| David Hamilton|| |
I remember Mike Bedford well and thought very highly of him. In fact, when I saw his output on morphology, I determined that I could not compete in that realm. So, I went with physiology and did better I think.
| Barry Hinton|| |
I cannot remember the first time I met Mike, maybe it was during my PhD days working with Brian Setchell, although I seem to recall during that time that he was referred to as “Jim.” Being the only one working on the epididymis in Brian's lab. I spent many hours grinding through the literature and discovered how much Mike had contributed to the field of epididymal physiology and sperm maturation. Looking back at his work, I realized I use some of his words in my presentations (albeit a little differently): “It thus appears that a distinct dichotomy between motility and fertility maybe produced in this initial region (here he refers to the caput and corpus) of the rabbit epididymis”. Later, during my postdoc and early faculty days, I met Mike a little more frequently, mostly at meetings, and I believe the last time we spoke was in Shanghai during Epididymis VI. I always enjoyed my chats with him, and came away impressed, not only by his profound knowledge, but also by his way of thinking. He challenged me to not be frightened to share my ideas that are not in the mainstream of thinking; I would like to think that some of my more recent reviews met his challenge. I will miss those fun conversations!
| Bill Holt|| |
I only met Mike once, although while I was doing my PhD on epididymal function, I had hard copies of every one of his papers, and have continued to be interested and impressed by the breadth of his studies across different species. While I was learning electron microscopy at the Royal Vet College, the Chief technician (John Hunter) told me several times that Mike Bedford worked all through one Christmas day to find a good TS section of a sperm tail.
| Roy Jones|| |
With the passing of Mike Bedford, sperm biology and fertilization research has lost one of its “giants.” I first met him at a SSF meeting in Liverpool in 1970 and was already in awe of him from reading his papers. As a lowly PhD student, I didn't expect him to notice me but we sat down together and discussed problems in epididymal physiology that opened my eyes and gave me a broader vision. This was one of Mike's great talents, to look at sperm biology from a wide evolutionary standpoint. While most of us were following fashions and chasing molecules up and down sperm tails, he was thinking how mammalian fertilization systems could have evolved and if there were precedents in lower organisms. This led him into comparative studies and to ask simple, basic questions that left most of us wondering, “now why didn't I think of that?” Not so long ago he visited Cambridge and we met up in one of his old student haunts, the Eagle pub. I was pontificating about the role of sperm acrosin in fertilization when his eyes began to glaze over. Then I mentioned that similar mechanisms were present in sea urchins and immediately he was interested and wanted to know more. Science never left Mike. Right to the end, he was writing reviews that were provocative and challenging. His contribution to reproductive biology has been immense and his research will be cited for a long time to come.
| Russell Jones|| |
It will take time to grasp Mike Bedford's death. It is the end on an era for spermatology, to his unique, holistic, evolutionary approach to interpreting the life history of sperm in mammals, including their interactions with the male and female reproductive ducts and ova. Like many others, I was motivated by his well-considered interpretations and his boldness in proposing hypotheses. And, it was impressive how he retained interest in the field. In my most recent interaction, a couple of years ago, he questioned the role of sperm competition in the evolution of reproductive strategies. He produced a detailed proposal of how it could not be involved and challenged Tim Birkhead's group and others to answer his criticisms. He insisted on a detailed defence! I will certainly miss him.
| Marie-Claire Orgebin-Crist|| |
I met Mike in 1962 in New York. Thaddeus Mann and Cecilia Lutwak-Mann, passing through New York, made sure that these two young expats working on the epididymis would meet. There followed over a half century of scientific and personal friendship with heated discussions on all topics from epididymal to political and anything in between.
Mike was remarkable for his broad, comparative, and evolutionary approach to reproductive biology: sperm maturation, sperm storage, sperm capacitation, and fertilization. All aspects of the sperm journey and functions were under his creative scrutiny. Mike was truly the Renaissance man of gamete biology. His reviews and provocative questions should inspire the next generation of reproductive biologists [Figure 4].
|Figure 4: Marie-Claire and Mike at Epididymis VI, Shanghai, October 2014.|
Click here to view
He will be sorely missed at the next Epididymis Workshop in Montreal ……
| David Phillips|| |
I first met Mike Bedford in 1971 when he came to site visit me in St. Louis for a grant application that I had submitted to NIH. I didn't get the grant – probably because it was not a very good application. After moving to NYC in the fall of 1973, I immediately got a call from Mike inviting me to his lab for meeting. Cornell is next to The Rockefeller University where my lab was. I went to Mikes' weekly lab meeting for many years. Having worked on mammalian reproduction for only a couple of years, I had a lot to learn and Mike enthusiastically taught me. We also worked together on some esoteric mammals with esoteric reproductive systems.
After Mike gave up his lab work to head the IVF program at Cornell, we had lunch together on a regular basis. Mike would talk about the epididymis and I would enjoy the food and drink. Since Mike moved to Philadelphia and I retired, we have been in contact by email. He was a wonderful mentor and a fine friend and I miss him very much.
| Bernard Robaire|| |
My introduction to the major contributions Mike Bedford made to our field was reading the outstanding chapter he wrote in the Handbook of Physiology (1975) on “Maturation, Transport and fate of spermatozoa in the epididymis.” I had the honor of meeting him “in person” a few months later during his visit to Johns Hopkins University while I was a postdoctoral fellow there. Over the years, we often met at scientific meetings and discussed a wide range of topics. He came to give a seminar and visit McGill University, my home institution, where he impressed everyone with his breadth of knowledge about evolution, reproductive adaptation, and, of course, the process of sperm maturation. His foundational studies have lit a path forward for generations of researchers in this field. His absence will be conspicuous.
| John Rodger|| |
Michael Bedford had a profound impact on my development as a reproductive biologist and the many other postdocs he trained, not through training us in a set of techniques or research models but in a way of thinking. Research methods and fashions come and go, but big questions remain.
Mike's comparative research on gamete biology and function was not driven by a simple curiosity about strange or different animals. In each case, the reproductive biology of the species offered potential as an experimental model in which to examine the fundamental aspects of gamete function with fresh eyes; whether it be the unusually large acrosomes of shrews; the complex post-testicular formation of the acrosome and morphological maturation of marsupial sperm in the epididymis, including pairing of sperm at their acrosomal face sequestering the acrosome in American marsupials but not the Australian; or the variable form and apparent function of the zona pellucida across the mammals. These were all systems in which to try to better understand the underlying principles of epididymal maturation, capacitation, sperm–egg binding, and zona pellucida penetration.
| Patricia Saling|| |
I am quite certain that Mike Bedford's scientific colleagues and protégés have described his powerful, positive impact on their careers and way of thinking about scientific problems. I join in those accolades but also want to relay another dimension: Mike played a very fundamental role in our family. I had post-doc'd with Mike in the late 70s–early 80s and then moved on to Duke University in North Carolina. My husband, Keith Burridge, and I went through many unsuccessful rounds of IVF and had just about abandoned any hope in that regard. In 1990, since I was closing in on 40, Mike sat me down at a cafe during a meeting in Siena, Italy, and insisted that Keith and I try one more time. Having had no children of his own, Mike's marriage to Rita Reinhardt brought him a grandson which opened a new dimension of overwhelming joy and fullness of life. He recognized the importance of what he had nearly missed and thought that any attempt toward that goal was worthwhile. Since Cornell was in the midst of an excellent IVF success rate, we took the plunge and Mike facilitated all the arrangements for us to come up and stay in NYC for 3 weeks. The best part of the story is that our daughter Claire was born in August 1991.
We always consider Mike to be her great-godfather and were able to visit Mike and Rita a couple of times with Claire as she grew up. In a surprise twist, the story of Mike's connection with Claire continued when, after her undergrad degree in the USA, Claire decided to pursue grad school in Cambridge and, by happenstance, joined Sidney Sussex College. Unbeknownst to any of us, this was also Mike's Cambridge College, for which he had deep affection. I think that Mike was thrilled with this additional link to Claire and followed her progress quite keenly, even sending us clippings and links to college news.
Mike was responsible for wonderfully changing my and my husband's lives and, indeed, he was right about the overwhelming joy brought by the creation of a family. Mike's sudden death is a loss shared by all three of us.
| Ruth Shalgi|| |
A picture [Figure 5] speaks louder than words!
|Figure 5: Mike with Lisa Perotti, Dave Phillips, Ruth Shalgi (with prize ham!), Ryuzo Yanagimachi, and Pat Saling at the VI International Conference on Spermatology in Siena in 1990.|
Click here to view
| Robert Sullivan|| |
Since my PhD, Mike's work has been a great source of inspiration.
| Dave Taggart|| |
I was very sorry to hear about Mike's death and have many fond memories of chin-wags about marsupial fertilization and deciphering-related images.
| Peter Temple-Smith|| |
I was really sad to learn of Mike's passing – particularly so because I felt that I had never really thanked him enough for the opportunities that he gave me in establishing my career in reproductive biology. In the last few days, I have been thinking a lot about him and his qualities as a scientist, as a person, and a friend. I had the good fortune to be Mike's first postdoc in his newly created position in O and G and Anatomy at (the now Weill) Cornell Medical Centre. Mike took me, essentially a small city lad from Hobart and Canberra, almost sight unseen from the relative obscurity of my PhD on platypus breeding biology in Canberra to work with him in NY – mostly I think because of our similar interests in comparative reproduction and anatomy. It was exhilarating to suddenly be working there with this tall, quite imposing, Brit who was thoroughly at home in Manhattan and had that wry and British sense of humour that was easy to connect with. It was an exciting and very instructive 3 years.
During that time, many reproductive scientists including George Cooper, Harry Moore, Nick Cross, Harold Calvin, and Jim Overstreet worked with Mike helping him pursue a vast range of questions about sperm maturation, sperm transport, capacitation, and fertilization. The icons of reproductive biology of the day were also common visitors to his lab, and I was often lucky enough to be invited into Mike's apartment across the corridor from mine for gin and tonics (with half a squeezed lime!) to meet these icons on his balcony in Sutton Terrace apartments. Besides learning electron microscopy, various surgical techniques, how to extract sperm from the epididymis, and flush eggs from rabbits, rats, and hamsters, Mike also insisted for a couple of weeks each year that I accompany him to the anatomy dissection room to learn how to teach the pelvis. This was his teaching commitment for his position in the anatomy department. The reason, he said, was that teaching anatomy was a good “meal ticket” that might be useful for me in the future; a “meal ticket” that was quickly realized in the next stage of my career at the Anatomy Department, Monash University.
Mike and Rita were always welcoming in their apartment in NY with Mike usually the chef. He was always interested in your latest research and discussing his latest ideas, theories, and publications. Recently, after a few years of silence, I reconnected with Mike, but sadly despite two attempts to actually visit him in Philadelphia, never quite made it. His emails confirm that Mike was still actively pursuing his ideas to the very end and the proof of this lies in his most recent publications at the grand age of 86. In an email, I received from him in February he wrote:
“As you can see from PubMed, my efforts in the last years have been directed to trying to understand better the significance of various aspects of conception – bees in my academic bonnet! At present I am thinking more broadly about the origins of the function of the cauda epididymidis, and wonder whether I can make one more run at the scrotum too. I note from another Research Gate posting that you have read my Biol Reprod commentary on human sperm and temperature, but I am attaching 3 others from the last couple of years – one a rather indulgent paper on the epididymis that I gave at the last epididymidis meeting in Shanghai some 18 months ago.”
Thanks again Mike, you were a great mentor and teacher and a wonderful friend [Figure 6].
|Figure 6: Mike sent me the photograph that his grandson had taken, with which he wrote: “I can't resist also a shot taken by my grandson with his iPhone which confirms that I look younger by the year!”|
Click here to view
| Terry T Turner|| |
Mike was, I'm sure, an important mentor to you (Paty) and others and a scientist well known to think beyond the conventional. He was the type of scientist we could all emulate, one who pushed at the boundaries of knowledge, looked closely at the knowledge we thought we already had, and resisted the idea that much of it was knowledge at all. He queried our received wisdom with an unrelenting curiosity and opened the field to new questioning by many who knew him or read his works.
| Paul Watson|| |
Mike Bedford taught me physiology at the RVC in the early 60s, so I may be one of his longer-standing colleagues. He left for the USA during my time as a student, but I believe he sowed the seed in me of interest in the male reproductive system – which was largely overlooked in reproductive studies at that time. He also fostered an ability to think creatively. When it came to my choice of doctoral subject, his laboratory was among those I considered seriously. In the end, his career ran parallel with mine, and I remained well aware of his growing status as a leading expert in epididymal studies. For those who had the good fortune to work with him, his inquiring mind and constant refusal to accept the generally received theory must have been contagious. I will remember him as a rather suave and confident colleague to whom I probably owe my first interest in the subject.
| Richard Weininger|| |
I first met Michael almost 50 years ago in September 1968 when I was a first-year medical student and he was teaching our course in human anatomy. He was an engaging teacher with a fine sense of humour and, perhaps, more than a little derision for us medical students whom he perceived to be a coddled bunch. Compared with the privations he endured during the war years that I learned about much later, he was absolutely right.
Michael introduced me to another medical student in those early years, a wonderful woman later to become my wife (he was our best man). Almost from the start she adored him and has been heartbroken as have I at our loss. When he and his beloved wife Rita became a couple, we were delighted to have them as close friends to include in our extended family. Our grown children still refer to him as “uncle Michael.”
As our friendship grew, one could not avoid being impressed by his curiosity about all things scientific, as well as the world at large. Conversations with him were always far ranging and interesting, as well as fun. That sense of curiosity and wonder surely contributed to his many successes as a scientist, and was lifelong. In one of our last conversations, he talked about a “final” paper he intended to write, musing about the many wonderful changes that had occurred during his tenure in science, but also lamenting the increasing commercialization of science, and the sorry state of world affairs in general.
He was a great scientist, a true gentleman, a devoted husband, a beloved step-father and grandfather, a wonderful human being, and a cherished friend. To say that we will miss him – we already do – is a gross understatement.
| Yi-Fei Wang|| |
To my knowledge, Mike Bedford was a forerunner and pathbreaker of sperm biology study. As a Chinese andrologist, I do feel he was our good teacher and helpful friend.
[Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5], [Figure 6]