In memoriam W. Alexander Scheffers (1925-2021)


With the passing of Ir. W. Alexander (Lex) Scheffers on May 12, the international yeast research community lost a colleague who, throughout a long career, was a highly active, respected and popular member.

Lex’ fascination for microbiology was kindled during the post-war years, when he studied in Delft under Albert Jan Kluyver. After Kluyver’s death in 1956, conditions in the laboratory were anything but conducive for the career of a young, ambitious scientist and Lex did not get a chance to write and defend a PhD thesis. This, however, did not prevent him from forging an impressive track record in yeast research. During the 1960’s, he published a string of seminal papers on the role NAD+/NADH cofactor balances in the regulation of sugar catabolism in yeasts, including a 1966 Nature publication on the biochemical basis of the Custers effect. From 1980 to 1990, a productive collaboration with Hans van Dijken, the newly appointed leader of TU Delft’s yeast research, resulted in an additional series of highly cited research and review publications on energetics and redox metabolism in yeasts.

Throughout Lex’s career, the words ‘academic service’ were at the core of his professional ethos. His many roles in academic management at TU Delft included a three-year period as interim chair of its microbiology group.  In addition, he was an active member of professional societies and organized several international symposia.

For Lex, his official retirement in 1990 merely marked the beginning of a new phase in his career, when active contributions to the international microbiology and yeast research communities took central stage. Lex became a FEMS Delegate, remained an active member of the International Commission on Yeast, and, in 1993, organized a successful International Specialized Symposium on Metabolic Compartmentation together with Hans van Dijken. Ten years after his formal retirement, Lex became the first Editor-in-Chief of FEMS Yeast Research. Over a period of five years, his passion for yeast research, managerial skills and unrelenting energy played a key role in establishing FEMS Yeast Research as a successful community journal. In 2003, Lex received a FEMS Special Merit Award to honour his many contributions to the Federation.

Those of us who had the privilege to meet Lex and work with him share grateful memories of an eminent scientist with a very strong sense of integrity, a beautifully dry sense of humour, a deep care for the quality of academic writing and, until an advanced age, an exceptional drive to contribute to the international scientific community. Lex’ final paper, an eloquent personal account of this career published in 2016 in FEMS Yeast Research, is warmly recommended to readers who want to learn more about this remarkable and beloved colleague.

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