Fumio Matsumura: 1934-2012

reprinted from Department of Entomology UC Davis Web Site

Fumio Matsumura: a ‘Grand Master of Insect Toxicology’
‘Our Profession Has Lost a Treasure’

Dec. 7, 2012

Fumio Matsumura, April, 2011.  (Photo Courtesy of Iowa State University)

Fumio Matsumura, April, 2011. (Photo Courtesy of Iowa State University)

Fumio Matsumura, 78, a distinguished professor of environmental toxicology and entomology at the University of California, Davis, and internationally known as “one of the grand masters of insect toxicology,” died Thursday, Dec. 6 in a Sacramento hospital following a brief illness. 

He had been hospitalized with pneumonia and developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), his family said.

Dr. Matsumura, a member of the UC Davis faculty since 1987, was a former director of  the Center for Environmental Health Sciences, editor-in-chief of the journal, Pesticide Biochemistry and Physiology, and wrote the classic textbook,Toxicology of Insecticides, first published in 1975 and used by generations of college students throughout the world, including in UC Davis classes.

“For some 50 years, Fumio has been at the cutting edge of both pesticide and environmental toxicology, and his pioneering research has helped to define both fields,” said Ron Tjeerdema, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology. “Fumio has also been a major contributor to the success of our department, and his legacy will continue for many years to come through the many students and postdoctoral fellows he has mentored.”

Said Michael Parrella, professor and chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology: “Fumio Matsumura was one of foremost insect toxicologists in the world.  His work will endure, but we have lost a wonderful colleague, teacher and scholar.  The Department of Entomology’s top national ranking is due to scientific giants, like Fumio, who contributed so much to the science and discipline he loved.  He will be impossible to replace.”

Bruce Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology and a longtime friend and colleague, described him as “so much fun and so stimulating. Each day he made the world a brighter and more interesting place with his enthusiasm over science, teaching and the pleasure of life.”

“Fumio was not only a member of the Department of Entomology,” Hammock said, “but he also was an original member of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Superfund Research Program in the department,  contributing his expertise on the toxicology of pesticides and contaminants like tetrachlorodioxin.”

Born Feb. 5, 1934 in Japan, Professor Matsumura received his bachelor’s degree in agricultural biology in 1957 from the University of Tokyo; his master’s degree in entomology in 1959 from the University of Alberta; and his doctorate in entomology from the University of Western Ontario in 1961.


Fumio Matsumura lecturing at Iowa State University.  (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

Fumio Matsumura lecturing at Iowa State University. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

His research involved the environmental toxicology of pesticides and dioxin-type chemicals; toxicology of pollutants; microbial degradation of toxicants; insect toxicology; and extensive studies of biologically active substances, oncogenes, and protein kinases. 

He did postdoctoral work at the University of Wageningen, Netherlands, and Cornell University. In 1964 he joined the Department of Entomology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Then in 1977 he was appointed director of the Pesticide Research Center at Michigan State University. The professor joined the UC Davis faculty in 1987 as associate director of the Toxic Substances Program and later served as director of the Center for Environmental Sciences. He chaired the Department of Environmental Toxicology from 1996 to 1998.

“We were really fortunate to be able to attract Fumio from Michigan State, “ said James Seiber, editor of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry and an emeritus professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis. “ He brought spirit, energy, and knowledge that has been essential to our faculty, and students in the pursuit of excellence in environmental health science.”

“Fumio was a pioneer and a giant in the field of toxicology, but also an outstanding educator and the ultimate gentleman,” said Joel Coats, the Charles F. Curtiss Distinguished Professor in the Department of Entomology, at Iowa State University, who worked with him on scientific advisory panels.  “Our profession has lost a treasure.”

Among his recent honors, Dr. Matsumura was invited to deliver the 20th  annual Paul A. Dahm Memorial Lecture in April of 2011 at Iowa State University, where Coats  introduced him as “one of the grand masters of insect toxicology” and described him as an “outstanding scientist and scholar, and a great mentor, role model and gentleman.”

“We worked together on scientific writing projects and professional conferences,” Coats said. “He was a highly respected colleague of mine, but also a role model for me and numerous others who looked up to him and followed his lead.”

In his own words, Professor Matsumura recently said: “My lifetime goal as an environmental toxicologist is to elucidate the true biological role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, (AHR) which was once thought of as a mere receptor solely dedicated to mediate the toxicity of dioxin” That goal led to studies into cancer initiation and therapy, the interaction of AHR with Heat-Shock Protein, mechanisms of apoptosis, and other fundamental processes.”

Professor Matsumura served as director of the NIEHS-funded Center for Environmental Health Sciences and the Environment program, a project first established in 1992 at UC Davis. It involved more than 40 faculty, staff, and student colleagues in 13 UC Davis departments.  His own research supported by the Center grant included mechanisms of action of Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin (TCDD), mechanism of estrogenicity of DDT analogs, fungal metabolism of pentachlorophenol (PCP) in agricultural soils, and an epidemiological approach to the study of the health effects of dioxins among Vietnam War veterans.

Professor Matsumura also served as director of the NIEHS-funded training grant in Environmental Toxicology which supports graduate students in many departments at UC Davis in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, School of Medicine, and School of Veterinary Medicine.


Joel Coats (left) and Fumio Matsumura at Iowa State University lecture, April of 2011. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

Joel Coats (left) and Fumio Matsumura at Iowa State University lecture, April of 2011. (Photo courtesy of Iowa State University)

His many activities included serving as director of the IR-4 Leader Laboratory and member of the IR-4 national Technical Committee, an activity that began while he directed the Pesticide Research Center at Michigan State University and the National IR-4 program was being initiated.    He was a member of the American Chemical Society, and an active member of the Society of Toxicology, and Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. 

He lectured worldwide, including at international conferences and congresses, and was a member of numerous international scientific committees. He received the International Award for Research in Agrochemicals from the American Chemical Society.

Professor Matsumura was an active member of the Graduate Groups in Pharmacology and Toxicology and Agricultural and Environmental Chemistry at UC Davis,  and chaired the Department of Environmental Toxicology from 1996-1998.  He regularly taught two graduate level courses, on environmental toxicants and ecotoxicology, organized seminars in environmental toxicology and entomology, and mentored dozens of graduate and undergraduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

He and his students and colleagues authored more than 400 books, book chapters, and scientific journal manuscripts.

Among his awards and honors:   World University Service (WUS/UNESCO) Scholar (1957); National Research Council Scholar (1960-61); Distinguished Scientist Award (College of Natural Sciences, Michigan State University Alumni Association, 1983); Burdick and Jackson International Award (American Chemical Society, Agrochemical Division, 1987);  Founders Award (Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 1988); Scientific Counselor, National Toxicology Program; Eminent Scientist Award (Riken Institute, Japan, 1995); Lifetime Achievement Recognition Award by the Society of Pesticide Science, 1995; Mochizuki Prize for Chemical Safety Research, 1995;  USEPA FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (Environmental Protection Agency/Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act) (1998-2003); and Distinguished Professor Designation by UC Davis, 2003.

Robert Washino, who chaired the UC Davis Department of Entomology in 1987 when Dr. Matsumura joined the faculty, remembered him as an “outstanding scientist and an excellent skier.”

Before his hospitalization, Professor Matsumura had been working on breast cancer research “and he vowed that he would not retire until he’d made substantial progress,” said Washino, an emeritus professor of entomology. He and his wife, Connie, are longtime friends of the Matsumaras.

“This fall Fumio was excited to see the first rains because they brought snow to the Sierra,” said Hammock. “Fumio was an expert downhill and cross-country skier his entire adult life. Many of his colleagues did not know that the first person down the ski jump and the giant slalom at the 1960 Winters Olympics at Squaw Valley was the daredevil Fumio Matsumura. He once was heard to joke: ‘I never really learned to ski; I only know how to go straight down.’ Throughout his career, Fumio introduced family, friends and scientific colleagues to the thrill of downhill and the beauty of backcountry skiing.”

“If there is a lasting memory for me from my 10 years of co-teaching toxicology with Fumio, it was him hooking his glasses over just one ear and talking over them about how exciting biochemistry and molecular biology was,” Hammock said. “He always inspired me.”

Dr. Matsumura’s wife, Teruko, related that Fumio loved skiing and was quite proficient at it.  “Olympic officials held a collegiate ski meet in Squaw Valley prior to the 1960 winter games,” she said. “Fumio was a collegiate skier at the University of Alberta, and competed as a jumper and slalom racer at that pre-Olympic event.  Later, he was a postdoc in Europe when the Canadian Olympic ski team was touring the continent.  The coach knew Fumio and invited him to ski with them during that tour.”

Seiber said the American Chemical Society was planning to celebrate his 80th birthday at its national meeting in San Francisco in 2014, which also coincides with the Pesticide Chemistry Congress to be convened by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).

“Fumio will be greatly missed by the international community of researchers who will gather at the 2014 IUPAC Congress,” Seiber said.

Dr.  Matsumura is survived by his wife, Teruko, of Davis, and two sons, Ichiro of Atlanta, Ga., an associate professor of biochemistry at Emory University; and Miko of San Jose, a software specialist with Java Corp.  Miko and his wife, Lis, have a son, Jackson, 7. The family plans to establish a memorial fund in his honor through the UC Davis Foundation. Details are pending.

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Kathy Keatley Garvey
Communications specialist
UC Davis Department of Entomology
(530) 754-6894