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Quintanilha, Aurélio Pereira da Silva, 1892-1987
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Aurélio Pereira da Silva Quintanilha, was born on the 24th of April 1892, in the parish of Santa Luzia, council of Angra do Heroísmo, Ilha Terceira of Azores. He was the son of Afonso Henriques da Silva and of Maria Carlota de Sousa Pereira. He completed primary school at Angra do Heroísmo, where he immediately proved to be an excellent student. He attended high school at Ponta Delgada, in São Miguel of the same islands, and finished high school with a distinction.

In October of 1910, at the age of 16, Aurélio Quintanilha moved to Lisbon, to join the Portuguese Military Force. As suggested by his older brother, Colonel Guilherme Quintanilha, he went to Coimbra to enter the preparatory course at the Military School. In the end, he never applied to the Military School, as he did not feel he had a military vocation. He enrolled in a preparatory medical course, in Coimbra, which he completed in three years. In 1913, he transferred to Lisbon, where he attended the faculty of Medicine for two years. Professors such as Celestino da Costa, Mark Athias and Aníbal de Bettencourt, influenced his liking for Cytology, a field that was very important in his scientific career.

In 1915, advised by Dr. Ruy Telles Palhinha, his friend and Assistant Professor of Botany at the Faculty of Science of the Lisbon University, Aurélio Quintanilha left the Faculty of Medicine and enrolled in a Science course of Natural History in the Faculty of Science of that same university, where he completed a degree with distinction in 1919. He was such an interested and brilliant student that during the two last years of the course, between 1917 and 1919, he performed the duties of Assistant of Botany. While he completed the course, he continued to go to the laboratories of the Faculty of Medicine, where he practiced research techniques in Cytology, Physiology and Microbiology.

At the beginning of the 19th Century, Botany in Coimbra was in a precarious situation. There was only one tenured professor, Wittnich Carriso, and one assistant, Artur Ervideira, they were responsible for the subjects of Morphology and Plant Physiology, Systematic Botany and Phytogeography. Thus, Wittnich Carriso, having met Aurélio Quintanilha during a visit to the Botanical Institute of the University of Lisbon, invited him to apply for the post of 1st assistant of the Botany Group of the Faculty of Science of Coimbra. Quintanilha accepted the invitation and in 1919, he was responsible for the theoretical and practical classes of Medical Botany and Plant Morphology and Physiology. He was also responsible for the development of a centre for studies in experimental Biology, using the experience from his studies in Cytology. He moved into the first floor of the building of the Botanical Gardens. Next door to the former director of the Botanical Garden, Julio Henriques, This permitted the development of a relationship between them which grew closer over the years.

He wanted to gain the necessary pedagogical training and subsequently applied and was admitted to the “Escola Normal Superior” (Higher Education). After two years of study, he sat the state exam in 1921, for which he submitted a dissertation entitled «Educação de hoje – Educação de amanhã» (Education today – Education of Tomorrow), where he deals with pertinent issues on the teaching of natural Science in High Schools and Technical High Schools, namely the importance of practical work and the convenience of starting from the concrete to the abstract. He passed with distinction with an average mark of 18. He immediately began a PhD, for which he prepared a dissertation «Contribuição ao estudo dos Synchytrium» (Contribution to the study of Synchytrium), where he explains the life cycle of S. papillatum Farlow. The PhD exam took place in 1926, where he was unanimously awarded the title of PhD in History of Natural Science. In the same year he applied for Professor of Botany of the same faculty and submitted as dissertation a study «O Problema das plantas carnívoras – Estudo citofisiológico da digestão no Drosophyllum lusitanicum Link» (the problem of carnivorous plants – Study of the cytophysiology of digestion in Drosophyllum lusitanicum Link, where he looks at various biological and geographic issues of the species., as well as the physiological classification of carnivorous plants and the carnivorous phenomena as a nutritional process. He was unanimously accepted and proposed for University Professor, a position he held for 9 years. In 1927, he became Director of the Botanic Laboratory and Secretary of the Faculty of Science of the University of Coimbra.

From then onwards, his main occupation was teaching, for which he had a great passion. He had a vast scientific and Humanist culture and was very intelligent. He had an excellent knowledge of the subject. In his teaching he used clear and updated scientific explanations with enthusiasm. He aroused an interest for scientific research, and ensured that all essential books were available to the students.

Quintanilha never accepted his training as complete. In 1928, Quintanilha, went to the University of Berlin, for further training, and took a temporary post as Portuguese Lecturer while working at the same time for the Pflanzenphysiologisches Institut, under the leadership of Hans Kniep, a reputed specialist in problems of sexuality of fungi. A year after his arrival in Berlin, Kniep dies and Quintanilha is invited to continue his research. In 1930, he did a traineeship at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Biologie under the leadership of Professor Max Hartmann. He also attended a great number of conferences on the most varied biological themes, in which well-known persons took part, such as Correns, Kniep, Goldschmidt, Hartmann, Stubbe, Stern, Brieger, amongst others, that took place at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut, This greatly enriched his biology culture. The three years he lived in Berlin and the two traineeships were of great importance to the scientific career of Quintanilha. He specialized in the genetics of fungi, and started his important research on the sexuality of Basidiomycetes.

In 1931, he returned to Coimbra, where he applied the knowledge and experience gained, started his Laboratory and library, and began to train his assistants and once again took up teaching, being responsible for the subjects Medical Botany and Plant Morphology. He continued the research started in Germany and in 1932, he published his work «Le problème de la sexualité Chez les Champignons». This important activity was interrupted in May 1935, when he was relieved of his duties and made to retire. This situation occurred in accordance with Decree-law No. 25317, that ordered retirement, or dismissal of any public or military officers or employees who have shown or show a spirit of opposition to the fundamental principles of the Political Constitution or would not guarantee their co-operation to achieve the ideals of the State». In the list of persons affected by this Decree-law published in the Government Gazette was the name of Aurélio Quintanilha.

The meagre pension given to him by the state, was insufficient for the sustenance of his family, and because he was unable to carry out in Portugal any Scientific or pedagogical activity, both in public or private entities, Quintanilha was forced to go abroad. There he approached various scientific centres in the hope of finding employment.

In 1935, the fifth International Congress of Botany, in which Quintanilha took with his colloquium «Cytologie et génétique de la sexualité Chez les Champignons». This study was a great success, the Science Academy of Denmark awarded him the Emil Christian Hansen prize, and the English Government, at the request of the English botanists awarded him a study grant to continue his scientific career and his research in a laboratory of his choice. He moved to Paris, where he had family and where Prof. Roger Heim, director of the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris, and taxonomist of fungi takes him in. In 1937, he was appointed to «Caísse Nationale de la Recherche Scientifique» as «Chargé de Recherches», where he found equipment to continue his studies in genetics of fungi. He gave special attention to pertinent issues, such as the “Phenomena of Buller”, the ”nanism phenomena in the hymenomycetes” and “The concept of the species in the Hymenomycetes”.

In 1939, as a result of the 2nd World War, he interrupted his research and, in spite of being a pacifist, in order to defend his host country, he joined the French army as a volunteer, where he served as a 2nd class soldier in a team of sappers. He was released after armistices in 1941, and returned to Paris. He could not find work so returned to Portugal, and joined the Estação Agronómica Nacional, in response to an offer made by Prof. António Sousa da Câmara,. He worked for two years, unpaid, until he saw that his contract as researcher was not viable due to the same decree that forced him to retire, and prohibited him from practicing any work remunerated by the State.

In 1943, he is awarded, by the “Academia das Ciências de Lisboa” (Lisbon Academy of Science), the Artur Malheiros Award, for the study “Doze anos de citologia e genética dos Fungos”. (Twelve years of Fungi cytology and genetics).

In 1943, he moved to Africa, to lead the Research and the experimental services of the “Junta de Exportação do Algodão” (Cotton export authority) which had recently been created in Lourenço Marques (Mozambique). This was an economic co-ordination organisation, the employees were not considered public officers, and as this was overseas, it was away from the continent. Therefore, it was not necessary to change the law that had ruled against him. In that same year he was nominated director of the “Centro de Investigação Científica Algodoeira (CICA)” (Cotton-plant Scientific Research Centre) in Mozambique. He travelled to many scientific centres in Africa, aimed at agriculture, where he did short training and specialization courses and visited the Cotton Belt in North America, meeting American scientists of the Agricultural Department. This experience made him one of the best specialists in cotton. He Recruited and trained experts and assistant staff, acquires the necessary bibliography and started a research centre for cotton. He together with his assistants were responsible for a vast scientific production at the centre, publishing 100 studies in a period from 1946 to 1961.

He had a great impact in the development of Cotton agriculture in Mozambique and Angola, which brought great benefits to the economic situation of the former colonies and of Portugal. The research he made led to great success in the improvement of cotton-plant creating hybrids that were very profitable for cotton growing and industry.

His scientific astuteness was impressive. Amongst his creations or assisted to create, is the “ Estação de Biologia Marítima” (Marine Biology Station) in the Inhaca island.

He ordered the intensive collection of plants growing spontaneously in the wild to assess their viability as an agricultural product. This was recorded at the C. I. C. A. in an impressive herbarium. Quintanilha also sent many duplicate collections of the African Flora Herbarium to the Coimbra Herbarium and for the Herbarium of the Centre of Botany of the overseas research centre. He made a very important contribution to the publication of the Zambezian Flora, prepared with the assistance of the governments of Britain, the Rhodesian Federation and Nyasaland.

He took part in various congresses, such as: Fourth International Botany Congress of London (1930), Fifth International Congress of Botany in Amsterdam (1935), International Congress of Genetics in Edinburgh (1939), Sixth International Congress of Botany of Stockholm (1950), The Luso-Spanish Congress for the Progress of Science in Lisbon (1950), Seventh International Congress of Paris (1954), International Congress of Genetics of Montreal (1958), etc.

In 1937, he was awarded, in Copenhagen, the Hansen Prize for Microbiology, as a reward for the research done on genetics and sexuality of Hymenomycetes and works published on these topics.

In 1943, he was awarded the Arthur Malheiros Prize by the “Academia das Ciências de Lisboa” (Lisbon Science Academy) for his book “Os fundamentos científicos das sexualidade”

His prestige amongst the South African Botanists was high, in 1947, the University of Witwatersrand awards him an Honorary Doctorate, and from then onwards Quintanilha was invited to be a Judge on Doctorates and interviews awarded by the Department of Botany of that University.

He was a member of a great number of Scientific Societies, amongst these are: “Sociedade Broteriana,” “Societé Botanique de France”, “ Société Mycologique de France,” “Deutsche Botanische Gesellschaft,” “Sociedade Portuguesa de Ciências Naturais”, “Sociedade Portuguesa de Biologia” and “Sociedade de Estudos de Mozambique”. In 1958, he was also elected correspondent member of the “Academia de Ciências de Lisboa” (Lisbon Science Academy).

He was one of those responsible for continuing the annual publication of the Broterian Society Bulletin. The Founder and Director of this publication, Júlio Henriques, wanted to end the Bulletin because of his age and lack of collaborators. Quintanilha, together with Wittnich Carriso, offered to be the editor, manager and recruiter of collaborators, and the second series of the Bulletin began. The first volume of the second Series was published in 1922 where the appeal was made to primary, secondary and higher education teachers to influence their students to study plants. Quintanilha remained the Editor from 1922 to 1936. The continuation of the Bulletin was effectively owing to his enthusiasm and persuasive powers that convinced Júlio Henriques. He published several of his works in various volumes of this Bulletin and his interest for the Broterian Society remained until the end of his life.

Between 1921 and 1960, Quintanilha published 47 scientific studies and co-operated in many others.

On the 24th of April 1962, Quintanilha reached the age limit, after serving about 16 years at the University of Coimbra and 19 in the colonies as Director of the “Centro de Investigação Científica da Algodeira” (Scientific Research Centre of the Cotton Plant). Once again he had to retire, without a right to a pension increase (1100$00), leaving him again in difficult economic situation.

The Rector of the University of Lourenço Marques, Prof. J. Veiga Simão, with the consent of Professor J. E. de Mesquita Rodrigues, Director of Department of Botany of the Faculty of Science, offered him a post at that department. Therefore, thanks to a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian foundation, it was possible for Quintanilha to continue his research on the genetics of fungi, while at the same time teaching some classes for free.

After the revolution on 25th of April 1974, Quintanilha requested reintegration as University Professor of Botany at the University of Coimbra.

By invitation, on the 4th November 1974, Quintanilha delivered his last lesson at the University of Coimbra, entitled «Quatro gerações de cientistas na história do Instituto Botânico de Coimbra» (Four generations of scientists in the history of the Botanical Institute of Coimbra). This was published in the Year Book of the Broterian Society No. XLI (1975). This class was presided by the Rector of the University of Coimbra, Prof. Doctor José Joaquim Teixeira Ribeiro, and the secretary was the Civil Governor of Coimbra, Prof. Doctor Luís Mendonça de Albuquerque, the President of the Administrative Committee of the Municipality of Coimbra, Dr. Rui Carrington da Costa, as well as many other university professors and researchers, students and other people connected with the University.

His scientific career is known worldwide. There were many who wished to pay him homage. On the 11th November 1974, The Portuguese Genetic Society made him the first honorary member of the society at a function presided by the Minister of Education and Culture, Prof. Victorino de Magalhães Godinho. In 1947, the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, awarded him an Honorary Doctorate. On the 15th of February 1983, through a proposal from the President of the Executive Board of the Museum, Laboratory and Botanical Gardens of the Faculty of Science of Lisbon, Prof. Fernando Catarino Mangas, Quintanilha was awarded a Doctorate Honouris Causa, to honour his qualities and merits as a professor and researcher and to mark the fact that the said scientist had started his career as second Assistant there. In 1972, the Portuguese Government awarded him the title “Grande Oficial da Ordem Militar de Santiago da Espada” (Knight of the Military Order of Santiago) and in 1987, he was awarded the Order of Liberty, given to him by the then President of the Republic, General Ramalho Eanes.

In the Portuguese Scientific front, Quintanilha ranks first and according to scientist Luís J. Archer, Quintanilha: “started and moulded Portuguese genetics, giving it prestige through many and important followers trained by him”, in ARCHER, Luis – Homenagem ao Prof. Quintanilha, in/Brotéria: Série de Ciências Naturais, Lisboa, 1975. Vol. XLIV – (LXXI), n.º 3-4, p. 156.

Many taxonomists tried to honour his name, dedicating to him new taxas: Piedraia Quintanilla Van Uden, Barros Machado & Castelo Branco, Acacia Quintanilla Torre, Cucumis quintanilhae Rosette & A. Fernandes e Narcissus bulbocodium L. subsp. quintanilhae A. Fernandes (hic).

He died on the 27th June 1987, and his body was laid to rest in the Benfica cemetery.

Jorge Guimarães

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