Bob McLean Biography | Alumni | University of Guelph

Bob McLean Biography


I was born in Toronto and grew up in southwestern Ontario, attending high school in Chatham (1969-72) and then Ingersoll (1972-4). I attended Guelph from 1974-8, graduating with a BSc in Microbiology. While an undergraduate I had several summer jobs one of which (summer research technician with Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge AB - 1977), gave me the impetus for my current career. After working in the food industry at several places around Toronto, and then Lethbridge AB between 1978-82, I entered graduate school at the University of Calgary, and received my PhD with JW Costerton in 1986. I returned to Guelph and did a two-year postdoc with Terry Beveridge from 1986-88. During my postdoc at Guelph, I met my wife (Martha) and we got married in 1988.

We moved to Kingston as I had a five-year research faculty appointment at Queen’s University from 1988-93. Our two sons (Malcolm and Alistair) were born in Kingston. In 1993, we moved to Texas as I got a faculty position at Southwest Texas State University (now renamed as Texas State University).

Career Highlights / External Links

I was first introduced to bacterial growth on surfaces (biofilms) during my graduate studies in Calgary and that has been the main focus of my research during my career. During my postdoc with Terry Beveridge at Guelph, I was introduced to the ability of bacterial surfaces to bind metals and also the ability of bacteria to form minerals, and the relationship of this phenomenon to the field of geology. During my graduate work and in my first academic appointment at Queen’s, I collaborated with a urologist, Dr. Curtis Nickel, and studied a type of kidney stone that is caused by bacterial infections. In 1993, we moved to Texas where my students and I studied general aspects of biofilm formation and function. One unexpected opportunity came in 1998, when I offered to help some 8th grade students with a science project that I was told “might be of interest to NASA”. The science teachers working with these students, knew someone who flew commercial payloads on the space shuttle and as a result, we had an experiment fly on the John Glenn shuttle (STS-95) to see if bacteria could form biofilms in microgravity. That experiment worked and ultimately led to two additional spaceflight experiments, the most recent of which launched on Space X21 in December 2020.  Certainly, the opportunity to do microbiology with world class people in association with NASA and other places, has been exciting. However, as I approach the end of my career, the thing I am most proud of is seeing the accomplishments of my current and former students. Several have gone to medical or veterinary programs and are now practicing. Others have gone to some pretty competitive PhD programs across the US, and others are doing well in careers even outside of science.


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