Scientists Born in June

Edwin Krebs (June 6, 1918) was an American biochemist. He started his scientific career as a medical doctor. However, while waiting to secure a position, Krebs spent time doing research in chemistry and biochemistry. He discovered that laboratory research is what he wanted to do and dedicated the rest of his career to biochemistry. Krebs was interested how muscle cells acquire energy from glycogen. He studied the protein phosphorylase which is involved in breaking down glucogen into its units, glucose, when the cell requires energy. This research led him to consider the role of the ATP in the regulation of protein activity.  Krebs focused on enzymes that take a phosphate form ATP and attached to a protein, called kinases, as well as enzymes that take the phosphate off proteins, called phosphatases. He showed how phosphorylase is activated by kinases putting a phosphate ON and how phosphatases de-activate phosphorylase by taken the phosphate group OFF. This work opened a new area of biology focusing in the interplay between phosphorylation-dephosphorylation in the regulation of protein function. For the importance of this work, Krebs in conjunction with Edmond Fischer received the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine in 1992. He also received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award in 1989 and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1989.

Virginia Apgar (June 7, 1909) was an American physician and medical researcher. She trained as a medical doctor at Columbia University medical center. After entering the work force as an intern, Apgar became interested in anesthesiology. At that time this field had only nurses practicing it, she thought that that discipline should be extended to medical doctors. Apgar went through the anesthesiology course and transformed the area into a medical practice. She became the first head of the division of anesthesiology within the Surgery department. After several years, during which she recruited and taught medical residents, the division of anesthesiology became a department with medical doctors rather than nurses. Against Apgar expectations the position of chair was given to a male colleague. She continued to work and teach. She was most interested on the effects that anesthesia had on the newborn. In order to measure the health status of the newborn, she developed the “Apgar scores”. This is a method to measure heart rate, respiration, movement, irritability, and color one minute after birth.  In order to validate the Apgar score method, she used blood work and attended many births. During this process she became interested on birth defects. Apgar was named the head of the new division of Congenital malformations at the March of Dimes National Foundation. Later in her career she taught teratology and genetics, wrote a book, and gave many lectures. Apgar received many awards including being honored by a U.S. postage stamp in 1994 and she was included in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1995.

Eric Wieschaus (June 8, 1947) is an American developmental biologist. As a child he wanted to become an artist, but it was a summer program funded by the National Science Foundation to encourage high school students to become scientists, that convinced to become a biologist. Wieschaus research model organism is the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, he encountered these creatures for the first time during his sophomore year at college. While working and learning fly genetics, he became interested in embryology; the mechanisms and forces that drive rearrangements during embryogenesis. During his doctoral work at Yale University and Basel, Wieschaus developed cell lineage techniques. He used x-rays in order to produce clones by mitotic recombination (a clone is a group of cells derived from one cell and thus containing a common characteristic). In the late 1970s, he started his laboratory at the European Molecular Biology in Heidelberg (EMBL), here he and Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard set up a very comprehensive mutagenesis experiment using fruit flies. The idea was to saturate the fly genome with mutations affecting embryonic development with the aim to identify as many as possible key components in pathways governing patterning, morphology, and differentiation. The genes he identified are conserved throughout multicellular organisms and many play a role in human malformations and cancer. For this work he shared the 1995 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and Edward Lewis. Wieschaus went back to the USA, and has been a professor at Princeton University. In his later career he elucidated the basic components of the Wnt pathway and the connection to β-catenin and APC. These pathways are central to basic cell signaling and went defective may produce cancer. Wieschaus is currently focusing on the biophysical and cell biology mechanisms that control cell movements during a period of embryogenesis, gastrulation. He is a member of the National Academy of sciences and a member of the Max Planck Society.

Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 28, 1906) was an American physicist born in Germany. As a child and the only daughter of a university professor she grew up among scientists like her neighbor the well-known physicist Hilbert. Goeppert started to study mathematics but soon changed her interest to physics, inspired by the lectures of the great physicist Max Born in Gottingen. She completed the doctoral dissertation under Born with a thesis on a theoretical treatment of two photon processes. Goeppert moved to the United states with her new husband, an American chemist. For several years she collaborated with him and work for no pay since, because of the anti-nepotism rule of many universities, it was not allowed for husband and wife to work in the same institution. Goeppert first scientific regular position was as senior physicist at the Argonne National Laboratory. During her work with E. Teller on the origin of chemical elements, she noticed that the most abundant and stable elements have certain number of either protons or neutrons, she called them ‘the magic numbers”. Goeppert was able to calculate the energy levels that matched the magic numbers by assuming the existence of spin-orbit coupling. This evidence strongly supported the shell concept for the nucleus and earn her the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics which she shared with Hans Jensen. She was awarded many prized and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Joseph Hooker (June 30, 1817) like his father was a British botanist. Like many upper-class people in the eighteen century, he was educated as a medical doctor and then embarked on a naval expedition ship as an assistant surgeon and naturalist. The purpose of this expedition to Antarctica was to map the South magnetic pole. The mission was accomplished but the ships were badly damage in a storm and they expedition had to spent months in the Malvina islands off the coast of Eastern South America. During this time Hooker collected many specimens, flora and fauna, that he took back with him to England. He published his observations in a very detailed and extensive description of his findings, this made him well known as a taxonomy botanist. Hooker did many other expeditions to India, Himalayas, Syria, Palestine, Morocco, and western United States. He was rapidly becoming the best botanist of his time, for his work he was elected member of the Royal Society. He was appointed assistant director of the botanical gardens a Kew, much like his father. In this position, he oversaw the development of this scientific center as a prime research institution into the anatomy and physiology of plants. The fact that he brought and successfully grow plants from all over the world had positive commercial implications for some wealthy companies. Countries explored and exploited those resources in the native areas or transplanting the plants to Europe. He became president of the Royal Society and received many awards like the knighthood and the Order of Merit