Edinburgh man’s work helped prevent crop disease

Stuart Chant had 'an infectious enthusiasm for life'. Picture: Contributed
Stuart Chant had 'an infectious enthusiasm for life'. Picture: Contributed
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TRIBUTES have been paid to a man whose work on crop disease in Africa made an important contribution to disease prevention on the continent.

Stuart Chant, who died aged 83, was a well respected microbiologist, agricultural scientist and plant pathologist.

He was best known for his study of the cassava mosaic virus in Nigeria – the starchy plant is a staple crop, a major source of carbohydrates and the third-largest source of food after rice and maize.

Born in Rutherglen, South Lanarkshire in 1930, the family moved to Edinburgh when Stuart was five. His father died of bowel cancer when he was 11, and because of this, Stuart was given a place as a “foundationer” at George Heriot’s School, financed by the George Heriot Trust.

After a First Class Honours in botany at the University of Edinburgh, Stuart began his Nigerian plant disease research in which he later completed his PhD in 1958.

Following his graduation from the University of Edinburgh, Stuart took up a job with the Moor Plantation (now the Federal College of Agriculture), in colonial Ibadan in south-west Nigeria.

Over the next four years, he helped isolate one of the main causes of the mosaic (or whitefly) disease in cassava. His work found that, under intense heat activation treatment, young plants could be rescued from their infected “parent hosts,” a breakthrough that had major implications for cassava productivity and therefore food security in Africa.

Stuart went on to write more than 100 articles on plants, as well as co-editing the book The Popular Encyclopedia of Plants (1982) with Vernon Heywood.

Apart from the cassava mosaic virus, he also became known as a specialist in cowpea virus, tobacco mosaic virus and the bacteriology of water and sewage sludge.

Upon his return from Nigeria, he worked for a year in the Scottish Horticultural Research Institute (later known as the Scottish Crop Research Institute) at Invergowrie on the Firth of Tay.

It was following this stint in Invergowrie that Stuart started his academic career at London University, initially as a lecturer at Chelsea College, and ultimately as senior lecturer at King’s College.

When he officially retired in 1988, his colleagues reported that he had “a marvellous buoyancy of character, and an infectious enthusiasm for life which is instantly conveyed to all who come into contact with him”.

He lived in Surrey for most of his career, retiring in New Malden, but remained fiercely proud of his Scottish roots and regularly brought his three daughters north to visit relatives in the Capital or spend holidays in Gullane.

Stuart is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, June, daughters Adrienne, Yvonne and Sylvia, and four grandchildren.