Wednesday , 24 April 2019

Froilano De Melo: Pioneer of Indian medical mycology

Nandkumar M Kamat


Mycological research In India did not begin with E J Butler in 1907. In fact Indian mycologists have completely ignored the contributions of doctors in Portuguese Goa to modern mycology. Goa and the rest of India haven’t produced a microbiologist, pathologist, epidemiologist and medical mycologist like Indalêncio Froilano De Melo (1887-1955). Half of the previous century is illustrated by his prolific research work.

Google’s scholar scientific search engine shows 128 papers in his name for the period 1914 to 1955. Not a single Goan has been able to write a detail biography of this genius scientist. But that task was accomplished by Professor Christina Bastos, Institute of Social Sciences, University of Lisbon as part of her project Empire, centres and provinces: the circulation of medical knowledge.  Christina wrote a beautiful monograph – From India to Brazil, with a microscope and a seat in Parliament: the life and work of Dr. Indalêncio Froilano de Melo (History of Science and Technology, 2008, 2: 139-189). Christina wrote- “he became one of the most famous Goan doctors ever; he combined clinical work, research and public health; he taught medicine, attended international conferences, directed medical services and headed the medical school.”

At age of 27, he had attended the All India Sanitary Conference and the Third Entomological Meeting, both in Lucknow, 1914, where he lectured on the recently formed field of medical mycology by invitation of the Viceroy of India. This article is a curtain raiser to the Asian Mycological Congress -2015 to be held in Goa next month, but mainly to showcase De Melo’s forgotten work as the father of Indian Medical Mycology. Fungi are seen in nature as unicellular microscopic life forms called yeasts or filamentous forms which can sometimes appear as large structures like mushrooms. But less than five per cent or only about 100 thousand species of fungi are known.

The study of fungi is known as mycology and estimates of global fungal biodiversity range from 1.5 to 5.1 million. Ethnic knowledge of mycology like use of edible, medicinal and hallucinogenic fungi comes under ethnomycology. International Mycological Association (IMA) is called the United Nations of world’s mycologists. It represents professional, scientific and intellectual interests of over 30,000 mycologists in the world. Goa would have an opportunity to host and interact with Professor Keith Seifert, the president of IMA.

Nobody should miss his public lecture ‘Five microfungi that changed the world’ organised at the Institute Menezes Braganza on the evening of October 8.  From October 7th to October 10th, Goa University will host the Asian Mycological Congress 2015 at the Shyamaprasad Mukherjee stadium, Taleigao. Representatives from agro, food and pharma industries should not miss this industry-academia interaction programme organised at the Goa Chamber of Commerce and Industries onthe morning of October 10th. It would be unfortunate if by oversight AMC-2015 may forget tributes to Froilano De Mello, who is one of the pioneers of modern medical and tropical mycology in India.

He discovered several species of yeasts and fungi. To provide some glimpses of his research – In 1914, he published papers on Trichophyton, which affect skin and identified a new species viannai. In 1917, he went to Lahore to present a paper at the Indian Science Congress on ‘Blastomyces and Blastomycosis” which infect lungs. With his student Paes, in 1918, he published the description of new yeast Endomyces cruzi that infected the respiratory system. In 1920, he published research on Apsergillus polychromous and Epidermophyton salmoneum. With his student Carmo Vaz, he was the pioneer in publishing research on medically important Indian strains of Aspergillus.

In 1929, he was invited to deliver a lecture at Seth G S Medical College of Bombay on medical mycology and the large field it offers for research work in India. The same year he published with his student Rodrigues, a preliminary note on a case of Dermatomycosis. In 1932 he described several novel species of infectious Scopulariosis. In 1939, he created a sensation in the medical world by publishing a paper on the parasitism of feminine genital organs by yeasts and yeast like fungi (Feminine genital Levurosis) about which the rest of India knew nothing.

In the same year he published a report on the characteristics and identification of the yeasts living in commensalism in the intestine of some laboratory animals and followed it by a report on experimental studies on diets deficient in vitamin B and their influence on the intestinal yeast flora of animals. He also published two novel species of Aspergillus. Interestingly the pathogenic dimorphic yeast which he and Fernandes had identified in 1917 as Cryptococcus costantini was confirmed in 1975 as a sexual stage of fungal pathogen Filobasidiella neoformans. Medical world knows this yeast today as Cryptococcus neoformans. But in the whole of Asia, Froilano had pioneered research on this maverick pathogen a century ago. He migrated to Brazil in 1951. In August 1954,  he went to Perth, Australia and gave a wonderful presentation on mycological and helminthological studies in Portuguese India at Comunicações portuguesas ao II Congresso da Associação Científica do Oceano Índico. Sixty years after his death, definitely on merit, he deserves due official recognition at the Asian Mycological Congress-2015, Goa.

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