In Memoriam: Brenchley, Jean E.


Jean E. Brenchley, Past President of ASM (1986)
Jean E. Brenchley, Past President of ASM (1986)
ASM Past President, Emeritus Faculty of Penn State’s Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology and Founding Director of the Penn State Biotechnology Institute Dr. Jean E. Brenchley passed away on Tuesday, July 9, 2019. 

Brenchley was an advocate for enhancing the status of women microbiologists and increasing employment opportunities for women and minorities in science. In 2019, she served as the keynote speaker at the 2009 Symposium for Women in the Sciences. As an acknowledgment of Brenchley’s longstanding commitment to the professional development of women in microbiology, many of her professional papers and personal awards have been donated to the LeRoy Heritage Museum (associated with the Bradford County Historical Society Museum in Towanda) for inclusion in a section of the museum that features notable accomplishments of Bradford County natives. 

Brenchley’s research focused on the biochemical, genetic and environmental properties of microorganisms. Her academic attention was devoted to the genetics and metabolism of amino acids in species of Salmonella, but her interests successfully broadened to cover biotechnological applications of psychrophilic (cold-loving) microbes. She trained numerous post-doctoral and graduate students who obtained careers as industrial, governmental and academic scientists. 

Brenchley received her B.S. degree in biology from Mansfield University, Mansfield, Pa., in 1965, obtained an M.S. degree in marine microbiology from the University of California, San Diego in 1967, followed by her Ph.D. degree in microbiology from the University of California, Davis, in 1970. In 1971, she became an assistant professor at Penn State's Microbiology Department (University Park), later being promoted to associate professor. In 1977, Brenchley continued teaching and researching at the Biological Sciences Department of Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind., and was promoted to professor of biology in 1979. From 1981-1984, she was the research director for Microbial Biochemistry at Genex Corporation, Gaithersburg, Md. In 1984, she became head of the Department of Microbiology and Cell Biology at Penn State and established the Penn State Biotechnology Institute, where she oversaw its design, construction and outfitting. She retired from Penn State with emeritus status in 2011.

Brenchley was president of the American Society for Microbiology in 1986 and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. She was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1994) and a fellow of the Society for Industrial Microbiology (1998). Brenchley received numerous honorary faculty appointments and awards, including the Outstanding Alumna of Mansfield University (1983), Honorary Doctorate Degree from Lycoming College (1992), the Waksman Award for Outstanding Contributions in Microbiology from the Theobald Smith Society (1985), the Alice Evans Award from the American Society for Microbiology (1996) and a Research Career Development Award from NIH (1976-1981). She participated as a member of several microbiology journals' editorial boards, including Editor for the Journal of Applied and Environmental Microbiology (1981-1985) and for Microbiological Reviews (1992-1997).