Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology

ON MARCH 6, MARC KIRSCHNER PRESENTS 2014 BLOCH LECTURE

by Andrew Murray

March 3rd, 2014

Marc Kirschner is an outstanding cell and developmental biologists whose contributions to biology are matched only by his record of granting the intellectual independence that allow his students to thrive both in his lab and in their subsequent careers. Kirschner got his PhD working with Howard Schachman on the basis of allostery in aspartyl transcarbamylase, which he followed with a brief postdoc working with John Gerhart, who became his long term scientific and intellectual collaborator, before taking a faculty position at Princeton in 1972. He moved to UCSF in 1978, and to Harvard Medical School in 1993, where he has been the chair of Cell Biology and then Systems Biology. 

Kirschner has made important contributions to the cytoskeleton, the cell cycle, and developmental biology. These include the discovery of tau, the first microtubule binding protein, the dynamic instability of microtubules,  the autonomous oscillator that drives embryonic cell cycles, the role of cyclin synthesis and destruction in these oscillations, the ubiquitinating enzyme that marks cyclin for destruction, and successful mathematical descriptions of the Wnt signaling pathway. With Gerhart, Kirschner has written two influential books that discuss the connection between the molecular mechanisms and evolutionary potential of biological circuits.

Kirschner has had many roles in the scientific community including acting as the first Chair of the Joint Steering Committee for Public Policy, the body that persuaded Congress to double the NIH budget, and the President of the American Society for Cell Biology. He has won many awards including the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the E. B. Wilson Award from the American Society of Cell Biology.

 

By Jim Henle

Konrad E. Bloch was an outstanding scientist who helped shape the discipline of biochemistry in its formative years. One of the founders of biochemical studies at Harvard, he was part of the pioneer generation that included George Wald, Paul Doty, John Edsall and Frank Westheimer. Best known for his studies of cholesterol, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1964 (shared with Feodor Lynen) for investigations in the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. Especially noteworthy were the studies on the biological synthesis of the molecule and, according to the Nobel Prize website, “on various aspects of terpene and sterol biogenesis…enzymatic formation of unsaturated fatty acids and...in various aspects of biochemical evolution.”

Arriving at Harvard from the University of Chicago in 1954, he was appointed Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, a position he held until his retirement in 1982. He was part of the core group at Harvard that founded the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry. With the somewhat later arrival of James Watson, Matthew Meselson, Walter Gilbert, Mark Ptashne and Guido Guidotti, Harvard had achieved a remarkably dynamic and productive core group in biochemistry and molecular biology, of which Dr. Bloch was a signal part. The late Dean Jeremy Knowles described him as “a marvelously perceptive biochemist and a wise, generous and cultivated man who forged the connections between chemistry and biochemistry. He was one of that distinguished line of European biochemists whose deep understanding of metabolism laid the chemical foundations of today’s biology.” [quoted in Harvard Gazette, Oct. 19, 2000]

Dr. Bloch was born in Neisse, then part of Germany, in 1912; he was racially excluded from his studies at Munich in 1934 upon the Nazi advent to power. His subsequent odyssey began in Switzerland, and he was spared a likely fatal return to Germany by the intervention of John Anderson, a Yale biochemist, who helped him with a visa to the US. In America, his studies resumed at Columbia; after a brief stay in Chicago, he came to Harvard.

His work was widely recognized; in addition to the Nobel, he received the US National Medal of Science, and many other awards and honorary degrees. In addition to his scientific output, he wrote intriguing popularizing works such as “Blondes in Venetian Paintings, the Nine-banded Armadillo, and Other Essays in Biochemistry”. He died in 2000, at the age of 88. In 1986, the annual Konrad Bloch lecture was inaugurated in his honor.

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Prof. Guido Guidotti for reviewing the text for accuracy.

The Bloch lecture, sponsored by Pfizer, honors Harvard faculty member and Nobel-prize recipient Konrad Bloch (1912-2000), a pioneer in the field of cholesterol and lipid metabolism.