Historical Context: Annual Review of Biochemistry Volume 86

Browse the Annual Review of Biochemistry Volume 86 table of contents.

This volume of the Annual Review of Biochemistry opens with an autobiography by Christopher Walsh, titled “At the Intersection of Chemistry, Biology, and Medicine.” I especially enjoyed his memories of his early days in research and how these early projects shaped his long-term research:

“Two epiphanies turned my attention away from medical school, which had
been my default expectation, to biomedical research as a career option. The
first came from research on fire ant trail substance pheromone. I was involved
in a joint project between Professor Law and Professor E.O. Wilson in the
Biology Department. Wilson has been the world’s expert in ant biology and the
lessons learned from their interdependent society for the past 60-plus years.
My efforts at partial purification resulted in my initial research paper,
published in Nature no less. Although it would be another 30 years before I
published in Nature again, in my callow enthusiasm I thought from this
encounter that the research enterprise would be exciting.”

I also liked the description of his first research group:

“Starting a research group is like diving into the deep end of a pool to find out if you can swim, with no prior instructions on what keeps people afloat. At the outset, aged 28, I was at most 5 years older than the students in my group. The sales and instrument people who would drop by would ask me all the time if Professor Walsh was in. I usually replied that unfortunately he was otherwise occupied.”

Nielsen’s article “Systems Biology of Metabolism” is a wide-ranging article that gave me a better understanding of metabolism—a subject I’m interested in but find very complicated. I especially enjoyed the history of the subject in the Introduction to the article, including the “golden age of metabolism studies.” These bits of history are very useful context.
bi-ribosomal rnaI discovered another historical section in Matzov’s article, “A Bright Future for

“This article addresses a major problem in modern medicine: resistance of pathogens to antibiotics. It focuses on how antibiotics paralyze ribosomes, the universal multicomponent cellular particles that translate the genetic code into proteins. It highlights conventional and nonconventional suggestions that may relieve, to some extent, the current problematic medical situation and shows how we may benefit from the vast amount of available structural information. Notably, understanding the mechanisms of resistance to antibiotics could not even be dreamt about when a project aimed at the determination of the atomic structure of ribosomes was started during the last two weeks of November 1979.”

Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne.

Research partners: Happy Valentine’s Day from Annual Reviews

I have a soft spot for the Annual Review autobiographies. I open each volume’s table of contents and eagerly search for them. I’m always interested in how our authors discovered their passion for their field and the interplay between their lives and their science. Among these articles there are a few that are written by husband and wife teams—and they are an extraordinary glimpse into shared lives.


I first encountered Leonard and Leonore Herzenberg in their article “Genetics, FACS, Immunology, and Redox: A Tale of Two Lives Intertwined,” published in the Annual Review of Immunology in 2004.  I was quite taken with the way they handed the narrative back and forth, as well as the humor with which they told their story. I was delighted to find them writing for us again in 2014 for the Annual Review of Physiology, and even more delighted to find they had done a video interview!  These two articles remain among my favorites, and I was sad to learn that Dr. Leonard Herzenberg had passed away soon after the video was made.

Here is a snippet from Dr. Leonore Herzenberg about their time in Paris at the Pasteur Institute from the 2004 volume of the Annual Review of Immunology:

…because Len loved hands-on experimentation, I took over much of the data recording, computation, and display (plotting) that was needed. The work was tedious (slide rules were the closest thing to computers at the time). However, it gave me the opportunity to do a preliminary analysis of the data and try novel approaches to analyzing LacZ induction kinetics. Len left this to me. He was more interested in developing methods and experiment designs that would enable clear conclusions without a lot of mathematical interference. This division of labor, which reflects Len’s innate preference for concreteness and my innate love for theory, remains with us even today.

bb-richardsonsDrs. Jane and David Richardson wrote “Doing Molecular Biophysics: Finding, Naming, and Picturing Signal Within Complexity” for the Annual Review of Biophysics in 2013. While the article focuses mainly on their research, it is full of stories about their shared experiences, such as this one:

We spent a large fraction of our lives from the early 1970s to the early 1990s in Fred Brooks’ computer graphics lab at the University of North Carolina (UNC). There we accomplished much of our own research in protein structure, acted as guinea pigs for in-depth testing of their software and hardware, and played happily with the science fiction–level gadgets that explored far-out new possibilities such as virtual reality displays, volume rendering, force feedback, fitting models into electron density, or tugging on atoms to move local structure with (more or less) physical realism. Some things worked splendidly and soon became widespread; some failed by being surprisingly unhelpful, making you sick, or whacking you in the chest (their gadgets never just fell apart)…


In 1989, George and Eva Klein wrote “How One Thing Has Led to Another” for the Annual Review of Immunology.  Their story begins with a whirlwind romance and an intrigue-filled move into Sweden just as the Iron Curtain was falling on Dr. Klein’s Hungarian homeland.  From the epilogue of their article:

As each of us is moving towards the approaching darkness, the sun is never setting over the vast oceans of science. It has been a rare privilege to live and work through the times when the genetic material turned from protein to DNA, when adaptive changes in cell populations-including antibody production-were unmasked as Darwinian variations and selection, when GOD became the rearrangement of immunoglobulin genes, violating the dogma that all somatic cells have the same DNA….It was a great time, and it still is, but it is only the stumbling, stuttering, premature foreshadowing of what lies ahead. We have barely scratched the surface.

bi-taborThe story of Celia White Tabor and Herbert Tabor’s work in biochemical research was chronicled along with their personal history in the article “It All Started on a Streetcar in Boston” for the Annual Review of Biochemistry in 1999.  Among the scientific discussion are small stories about their lives and friendships, making this an interesting read.

We first met on a Boston streetcar in 1940, being introduced by a mutual friend. Celia was returning from research work at the Massachusetts General Hospital as part of her senior thesis at Radcliffe College, and Herb was returning from a concert by the Boston Symphony. We were married in 1946 after Celia had finished her medical training. We started working together in 1952, and we are still actively collaborating in our studies on various aspects of the biosynthesis and function of polyamines.

Suzanne K. Moses is Annual Reviews’ Senior Electronic Content Coordinator. For 15+ years, she has played a central role in the publication of Annual Reviews’ online articles. Not a single page is posted online without first being proofed and quality checked by Suzanne.

Runners-Up for Person of the Year: CRISPR Scientists

Time Magazine named U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump its 2016 Person of the Year, but amongst the runners-up are the scientists who identified the mechanisms and developed the technique of gene editing using clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), as well as those who are attempting to find direct applications in human health.

The implications are significant for the treatment of diseases with genetic components. If gene sequences can be altered, they can also be corrected to eliminate the risk of illnesses such as cystic fibrosis or Huntington’s Disease. They can also be used in the treatment of certain cancers. The technique is all the more revolutionary because it is cheap, very accurate, and easy to use.

While many of the scientists involved in these discoveries co-signed a letter urging caution in the use of CRISPR, wary as they are of genome modifications that could be passed on to offspring, this new technology also offers a lot of hope for many diseases that have not yet found a cure.

Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California at Berkeley, along with Emmanuelle Charpentier of the Max Planck Institute, developed a way to simplify this technology and apply it to all kinds of DNA. Feng Zhang, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, showed it was possible to use it on human DNA. Carl June, of the University of Pennsylvania, is now attempting to harness CRISPR to treat cancer.

Congratulations to all of them.

Browse Dr. Doudna’s articles for Annual Reviews:

Seven Annual Reviews Authors Win Breakthrough Prizes

The 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics was awarded to Kip S. Thorne, of the California Institute of Technology (CalTech), and Rainer Weiss, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They lead the LIGO Project with CalTech’s Ronald W.P. Drever, also a recipient of the prize, and they share this honor with the other 1012 who were part of this research. Together they were the first to detect the gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein.

Find Dr. Thorne’s article in the 1972 Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics:

Find Dr. Weiss’ article in the 1980 Annual Review of Astronomy and Astrophysics:

Five Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences were awarded in 2017, to the following laureates:

Stephen Elledge, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Harvard Medical School, and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “for elucidating how eukaryotic cells sense and respond to damage in their DNA and providing insights into the development and treatment of cancer.”

Dr. Elledge is scheduled to write an article for the 2017 Annual Review of Cancer Biology.

Harry F. Noller, of the University of California, Santa Cruz, “for discovering the centrality of RNA in forming the active centers of the ribosome, the fundamental machinery of protein synthesis in all cells, thereby connecting modern biology to the origin of life and also explaining how many natural antibiotics disrupt protein synthesis.”

Find Dr. Noller’s articles in the Annual Review of Biochemistry:

Roeland Nusse, of Stanford University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “for pioneering research on the Wnt pathway, one of the crucial intercellular signaling systems in development, cancer and stem cell biology.”

Find Dr. Nusse’s articles in the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology:

• Yoshinori Ohsumi, of the Tokyo Institute of Technology, “for elucidating autophagy, the recycling system that cells use to generate nutrients from their own inessential or damaged components.” This comes two months after Dr. Ohsumi won the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Find Dr. Ohsumi’s articles in the Annual Review of Cell and Developmental Biology:

Huda Y. Zoghbi, of the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “for discoveries of the genetic causes and biochemical mechanisms of spinocerebellar ataxia and Rett syndrome, findings that have provided insight into the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and neurological diseases.”

Find Dr. Zoghby’s articles in the Annual Review of Neuroscience, the Annual Review of Physiology, and the Annual Review of Genomics and Human Genetics:

2016 Lasker Awards

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 Lasker awards.

1. Basic Medical Research Award:

William G. Kaelin, of Dana Farber-Harvard Cancer Center.

Gregg L. Semenza, of Johns Hopkins University.

They helped identify how all animals react to variations in oxygen. They share the award with Peter J. Ratcliffe, of Oxford University. Click on their names to read the articles they wrote for various Annual Reviews journals.

2. Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award:

Charles M. Rice, of Rockefeller University.

He shares the award with Ralf  F. W. Bartenschlager, of the University of Heidelberg, and Michael J. Sofia, of Arbutus Biopharma. Drs. Rice and Bartenschlager were able to find a way to make the Hepatitis C virus replicate in laboratory conditions, which allowed research to proceed. Dr. Sofia then developed a drug that made it possible to treat the disease.  Click on Dr. Rice’s name to browse the articles he wrote for various Annual Reviews journals.

3. Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science:

Bruce M. Alberts, of the University of California, San Francisco.

He was recognized for his work in molecular biology and his efforts toward science education. Click on his name to browse the articles he wrote for the Annual Review of Biochemistry.