TRIBUTES have been paid to a leading York bioscientist who was killed in a cycling incident on the Isle of Wight.

Professor Simon McQueen-Mason of the University of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products died instantly following the incident on June 5.

Scientific colleagues in York have paid tribute to an 'outstanding academic'.

Prof McQueen-Mason, 64, an expert in the structure of plant cell walls, pioneered research into making fast-fashion greener by finding ways of breaking down the fibres in clothes thrown into landfill so they they can be spun into new cloth.

He also led a team looking at how to turn the waste products from the sugarcane industry into citric acid, which can be used in foods, medicines and cosmetics; and developed a new, modified variety of wheat with a 12 per cent greater yield.

York Press: Prof Simon McQueen-MasonProf Simon McQueen-Mason

Paying tribute, a spokesperson for the University of York said: "Simon was an exceptional man, a widely respected and well-liked member of staff, an outstanding academic and a leading authority in using cutting-edge research to harness the power of nature for the development of new products and processes.

"He worked tirelessly to make our world a better place.

"Our thoughts are with his family, colleagues and students at this very difficult time.”

Prof McQueen-Mason, who was the Chair of Materials Biology at CNAP, took an unusual route into academia.

He left school at 17 without any A-levels and worked as a fisherman, eventually owning his own boat.

The money he earned from fishing funded his passion for travel. And it was while travelling that he became curious about living systems in the natural world.

This inspired him to write to Portsmouth Polytechnic at the age of 26, convincing them to offer him a place to study biology.

Not having studied the subject since the age of 13 he initially struggled, but eventually graduated with a first-class degree.

He went on to do a PhD at Pennsylvania State University in the US, before coming to the University of York in 1994. He was appointed Chair in Materials Biology at CNAP in 2001.

Prof McQueen-Mason helped develop new technologies for unlocking the sugars in plant cell walls so that they could then be used to produce biofuels and chemicals, as well as sustainable textiles.

He was a key figure in the establishment of the Biorenewables Development Centre in York in 2010.

"Simon’s love of travel made him passionate about environmental issues and global challenges, particularly climate change," said CNAP director Prof Neil Bruce. "He led international projects in Brazil, India, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam to create value from agricultural residues such as rice straw, with a particular emphasis on helping smallholder farmers."

Prof McQueen-Mason is survived by his partner Claire, former wife Florencia, and children Ian and Sofia.

"He will be sorely missed by his friends and colleagues across the world," said Prof Ian Graham of the University of York's Department of Biology.