J. Woodland (Woody) Hastings

The MBL community is very saddened by the passing of J. Woodland (Woody) Hastings, 87, on August 6, 2014. An affiliate of the MBL since 1949, Hastings was the Paul C. Mangelsdorf Professor of Natural Sciences, Emeritus, at Harvard University’s Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. Obituaries for Hastings were published in the Boston Globe and in the New York Times.

Woody Hastings first came to the MBL in 1949 as a graduate student at Princeton University with E. Newton Harvey, a major figure in the fields of bioluminescence and cell physiology more generally. He conducted much of his doctoral research at MBL and subsequently returned for more than five decades as an MBL visiting investigator. Hastings served the MBL in a variety of capacities, including MBL Trustee (1967 to 1974) and former Corporation member. A dedicated teacher, Hastings directed the Physiology course from 1962 to 1966 and was on the course faculty from 1961 to 1971. He also served as course director or faculty member in the Microbial Ecology and Marine Ecology courses in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“Woody Hastings was an extraordinary biologist and biochemist whose work on simple microbial organisms led to a wonderful series of discoveries that have had broad biological and biomedical impacts in three different fields:  bioluminescence, the molecular basis of circadian rhythm, and the phenomenon known as quorum sensing,” said MBL President and Director Joan Ruderman, a longtime colleague of Hastings both at Harvard and at the MBL.

Among Hastings’ collaborators were his former graduate student James G. Morin, now Professor of Biology at Cornell University; they worked on coelenterate luminescence systems and green fluorescent protein (GFP) at the MBL in the 1960s and early 1970s. In 1967, Hastings invited Ken Nealson, then a graduate student at the University of Chicago, to apply for the MBL Physiology course and conduct post-course research with him at MBL; during that period Nealson and Hastings conducted the key experiments that first demonstrated quorum sensing (which they called auto induction) in the luminescent marine bacterium Vibrio fischeri. Hastings also collaborated with MBL Distinguished Scientist Osamu Shimomura to determine the structure of the luciferin in dinoflagellates (protists). “Woody’s research was mainly focused on luminous bacteria and dinoflagellates, and he made a great contribution in understanding the mechanism of light emission from these luminescence systems,” Shimomura said.

Hastings was widely known and respected in the MBL scientific community. “Woody’s impact on the advanced courses and general research and administrative directions of MBL was felt throughout his many years of dedicated affiliation with MBL,” said his close colleague, MBL Distinguished Scientist Shinya Inoué.

The MBL flag will be lowered in Dr. Hastings’ memory.