- There is nothing quite like the excitement of discovery in science—of finding something no one else knew and seeing a story unfold. One has to be part of an emerging picture to feel the elation. These moments in a lifetime are few and far between, but they fuel enthusiasm and keep one going. They are embedded in struggles and joys of everyday life, years of establishing what Louis Pasteur called “the prepared mind,” working with mentors, trainees, and colleagues, failures and successes. This article recalls 1) how I got to be a biochemist; 2) my contributions as an educator and researcher, especially regarding meprin metalloproteases; and 3) my participation in communities of science.
- An early exposure to lipid biochemistry in the laboratory of Konrad Bloch resulted in a fascination with the biosynthesis, structures, and functions of bacterial lipids. The discovery of plasmalogens (1-alk-1′-enyl, 2-acyl phospholipids) in anaerobic Gram-positive bacteria led to studies on the physical chemistry of these lipids and the cellular regulation of membrane lipid polymorphism in bacteria. Later studies in several laboratories showed that the formation of the alk-1-enyl ether bond involves an aerobic process in animal cells and thus is fundamentally different from that in anaerobic organisms.
- It is a great honor to be asked to write a “Reflections” article by one of the true icons of biochemistry, Herb Tabor. I felt humbled, especially since it follows many written by biochemists I admire and whose contributions have shaped major advances in biochemistry and molecular biology in the last century. Here I present my personal reflections on my adventure with the bioactive sphingolipid metabolite sphingosine-1-phosphate intertwined with those of my family life as a wife, mother, and grandmother.
- I have traveled many roads during my career. After spending my first 19 years in Los Angeles, I became somewhat of an academic nomad, studying and/or working in six universities in the United States and three in Sweden. In chronological order, I have a B.A. in Scandinavian languages and literature from UCLA, a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Uppsala University, and an M.S. in toxicology from the Karolinska Institute. I have been in schools of natural science, pharmacy, and medicine and have worked in multiple basic science departments and one clinical department.
- I learned biochemistry from P. Boon Chock and Earl Stadtman while working on the regulation of Escherichia coli glutamine synthetase as a postdoctoral fellow at the National Institutes of Health. After becoming a tenured scientist at the same institute, my group discovered, purified, and cloned the first three prototypical members of the phospholipase C family and uncovered the mechanisms by which various cell-surface receptors activate these enzymes to generate diacylglycerol and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate.
- Omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids were identified as essential nutrients in 1930. Their essentiality is largely due to their function as prostaglandin (PG) precursors. I spent most of my career in biochemistry determining how PG biosynthesis is regulated. PGs are lipid mediators formed in response to certain circulating hormones and cytokines. PGs act near their sites of synthesis to signal neighboring cells to coordinate their responses (e.g. when platelets interact with blood vessels). The committed step in PG synthesis is the conversion of a 20-carbon omega-6 fatty acid called arachidonic acid to prostaglandin endoperoxide H2 (PGH2).
- Having been offered the opportunity to contribute one of the episodes of this series of personal history accounts, I have chosen to write about circumstances that led me to the start of the scientific path that I have followed for the past forty odd years. My account deals with a period of approximately six years and with events that I have written about recently (1); although I have been conscientious about avoiding overt self-plagiarism (at least the kind that is detected by computer programs), I also hope to have added some additional perspective.
- It has been nearly 50 years since I started doing molecular biology as a graduate student in the Department of Biophysics at The Johns Hopkins University. I am still doing molecular biology, but I now find myself just as interested in geology; and although I will never really be a geologist, I have been on some fascinating field trips in the past eight years to South Africa, Namibia, Oman, Australia, the Bahamas, and the American West. I am even coauthor of a paper in geology (1), so I will reflect in this article how this came to pass.