In memoriam Milton S da Costa (1948-2020)


It is with much regret that we share the sad news that former FEMS President Prof. Milton da Costa, passed away this week. Professor at the University of Coimbra, Milton was a well-known, much respected and hugely popular figure among fellow microbiologists for his teaching, research and contributions to the microbiology community.

His interest lay in extremophiles, but he was a microbiologist who loved diversity and had almost limitless interests. He published more than 100 papers, contributed to several significant books, and presented at many major conferences. But it was also his relaxed, friendly and humorous conversations that will be remembered most by those that knew him.

Milton da Costa in 2003
Milton da Costa in 2003 when elected as FEMS President

Milton gave his time generously and was Treasurer of the Sociedade Portuguesa de Bioquímica from 1981 to 1988 and from 1991 to 1997. He was President of the Sociedade Portuguesa de Microbiologia (SPM) 1996-2002. This is where he first worked with FEMS, acting as the Delegate for SPM and also working on the Meetings and Publicity Board between 1998. It was then that Milton, with the encouragement of two previous FEMS Presidents, Eliora Ron and Hans Trüper, stood for the position of FEMS President and was elected 2003. He spent three years as Vice-President, and in 2007 took office as President, a position he held until 2010.

During his Presidency, Milton worked energetically and enthusiastically to revise and improve the organization of FEMS and revise our statutes, unifying the two (until then) distinct entities of the organization. This significant contribution to the Federation enabled a secure and stable foundation from which to build for the future. A legacy we continue to reap today.

A much more high-profile testament of Milton’s time as President is the forming of the European Academy of Microbiology, an initiative of Milton’s predecessor as President Eliora Ron and an organization founded to increase the impact and visibility of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe. The EAM recognizes leading microbiologists and works to promote microbiology in society and with policy makers and continues to organize specialized high-standard workshops on front-line and multidisciplinary microbiology subjects.

Milton recognized the beauty of studying microbes, whatever they may be and enjoyed both teaching and research. His work continued until recently, including a Horizon 2020 project working with industrial and international partners to working together to accelerate the identification of proteins with biotechnological potential from metagenomes.

Milton brought interest, wonder and humour to the classroom and was able to engage with all levels of colleagues, students and politicians. He was always patient and gave his time and knowledge generously. He will be missed by colleagues and the many former students that knew him.

Milton Simões da Costa 1948-2020

Professor of Microbiology, Dept. Life Sciences, Univ Coimbra. B.S. University of Arizona, USA (1968). M.S. Northern Arizona University, USA (1972). Ph.D., Indiana University, USA (1977); President Portuguese Society of Microbiology (1996-2002), President-Elect and President Federation of European Microbiological Societies (FEMS, 2004-2010), Chair Microbiology and Biotechnology, Mediterranean Science Commission (CIESM, 2010-2013). Chair International Committee on Systematics of Prokaryotes (ICSP), 2014-2017.

We have received several tributes from friends colleagues and former students of Prof da Costa since his death was announced. Some of these can be found here.

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