Dr. M.J. Thirumalachar was born on 22nd September, 1914 in Malleswaram, Bangalore, in a respected family of lyengar Brahmins known to be erudite and knowledgeable in various shastras (scriptures) in Sanskrit. He had his early education in Bangalore and at an early age showed interest and inclination to work in the field of Mycology. His father Dr. M.J. Narasimhan was Director of Agriculture in the state of Mysore had contributed greatly to the etiology of the koleroga disease of arecanut and its control. After obtaining his Master’s degree in Botany, he secured his D.Sc. degree from the University of Mysore under the guidance of Dr. B.B. Mundkur in 1944. He also had his Ph.D. degree from the University of Wisconsin (USA) in 1947 under the chairmanship of Dr. James G. Dickson.
He worked as Lecturer in Botany, University of Mysore from 1939 to 1945 and was Professor of Plant Pathology, College of Agriculture, Banaras Hindu University in 1949 before he joined as Plant Pathologist in the Central Potato Research Institute, then headquartered at Patna where he remained upto 1953. After being selected for working in Hindustan Antibiotics, Pimpri, near Pune, he worked as WHO Fellow at the Intituto Superiore di Sanita, Rome with the Nobel Laureate, E.B. Chain.
Research in the field of Antibiotics was initiated at Pimpri after his return from Rome. Here he served as Chief Mycologist and as Superintendent of Research, Hindustan Antibiotics Research Centre until his/retirement in 1974. He then proceeded to Copenhagen, Denmark as Visiting Profesor in the Institute of Seed Pathology established by Dr. P. Neergaard. Later he moved to University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis (USA) where he worked from 1975 to 1978 for transfer of human insulin gene into a eukaryotic pseudoyeast cell. The Dow Chemical Company invited him to establish and head anti-mycoplasma and anti-viral unit in 1979.
In order to promote Mycology and Plant Pathology, a generous bequest was made by him to the Indian Phytopathological Society for instituting the Narasimhan Academic award in the seventies. Another handsome contribution was made to the Society for establishing an Annual Lectureship named in honour of Jeersannidhi and a third generous donation was made during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations in November, 1997 as an ‘upgrade’ for both these awards.
He was credited with having indentified more than one-hundred antibiotics and in the development of at least 50 of them to a commercial level. Some of them are anti-viral, some anti-mycoplasmal or antiphytoplasmal, some anti-bacterial, some anti-fungal (Hamycin, Aureomycin, Dermostain, etc.), while others like Necrocitin. Antiprotozoin, an antiprotozoal antifungal antibiotic was obtained from a strain of Streptomyces hygroscopicus. Dr. Thirumalachar was also responsible for the development of Systemic Fungicide, KT-19827 for the control of Dutch Elm disease and also Oak Wilt, Phyton.
He developed what has been called the JAIMYCIN Process (patent pending). In the San Fransisco Bay area, he isolated a new marine Geotrichum named by him as G. marinum.
He published more than 460 research papers.
The journal, Hindustan Antibiotics Bulletin, in which he contributed singly or jointly around 50 papers, was established by him in the seventies.
He was Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy and was conferred by the same Body the Sunder Lal Hora Medal. He was the recipient of Sir Shanti Swamp Bhatnagar Award by the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research for valuable contributions in Medical Mycology and for the discovery and development of antifungal antibiotics. The Polish Academy also awarded a Medal for his contributions in the field of Antibiotics.
He passed away on 21st April, 1999 at his home in Walnut Creek, California (USA).