Pioneer and expert on role of folic acid in metabolism


John Martin Scott, Born: May 20th, 1940 Died: December 29th, 2012John Martin Scott, who has died aged 72, was professor of experimental nutrition in Trinity College Dublin. His career there included advancement to fellow of TCD (1973), bursar (1977-80), personal chair (1978), doctor of science (1981), member of the Royal Irish Academy (1984) and senior fellow (2005).

John Scott grew up in Churchtown, Dublin. He was educated at Garbally College, Ballinasloe. His father, Martin, was a civil engineer and his mother, Claire, worked at home. He studied at University College Dublin, where he took a BSc, later obtaining a PhD in TCD.

Scott was an internationally recognised expert on the vitamin folic acid (folate) and its role in metabolism, yet he always said that he entered the world of folates by chance. Taking a postdoctoral fellowship in Berkeley, California, he switched to folate metabolism, which set a career-long course.

Back home he took a post in the new biochemistry department in TCD and formed an alliance with the TCD regius professor of medicine Donald Weir. Together, they made a formidable research duo in a classic example of “bench-to-bedside” research and published well over 100 research articles and reviews on folate and vitamin B12 metabolism.

The focus of his later career was the role of nutrition in preventing neural tube defects (such as spina bifida and anencephaly). In 1995, his group published a seminal paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrating that the risk of having a child with a neural tube defect was strongly related to the mother’s red blood cell folate level and that the risk remained high until the maternal red cell folate levels were well above the deficiency range.

This article has been cited in more than 500 journals and the conclusions are still used by public health specialists in the US and elsewhere in food fortification policies.

Scott was expert adviser for the Irish Food Safety Authority and for numerous British, EU and US scientific committees. He was on the board of St James’s Hospital for over 20 years.

He was a member of the Grange Golf Club for 50 years, where he and his wife, Bella, had many close friends. Bella died in October 2010. He is survived by his son Martin, daughter Rachel, sister Una, daughter-in-law Heather, son-in-law Ronan and grandchildren James, Matthew, Charlotte, Isabelle Scarlet and Ava Grace.