Virologist Roger W. Hendrix died on 15 August 2017. I only met Roger once, at the 2011 ASM meeting in New Orleans where we recorded an episode of This Week in Virology. The video of that episode is below, starting at my conversation with Roger at 30:34. Harmit Malik and Rachel Katzenellenbogen were my other guests on TWiV 135.
Johns Hopkins Neurovirologist Richard T. Johnson has died, andÂ his obituary at Hub provides a good summary of his career. He had an important influence on my work early in my career.
The first edition of Dr. Johnson’s book, Viral Infections of the Nervous System, was published in 1982 – the year I began my laboratory at Columbia University. I was interested in studying poliovirus pathogenesis, so I immediately purchased the book (which I still have to this day – that’s a photo of it in the upper left). It served as an important resource and source of inspiration for many years, whether for writing grants, review articles, or thinking about viruses and their interaction with the central nervous system.
I always liked his sentence on page 5, under ‘Origins of Virology’: Virology as a discipline began in botany, not in medicine.
For me the most valuable chapter was ‘Pathogenesis of CNS Infections’ in which Johnson discussed how viruses move into and within that system. Many of the pages in that chapterÂ are underlined and marked with comments (see photo below).
Years later, when I was writing Principles of Virology, many of the concepts that I learned from Dr. Johnson made their way into that book. Dr. Johnson supplied me with an electron micrograph of the blood-brain barrier for use in our textbook.
A testimony to the value of this book for me is how many questions it raised, rather than answered. It truly influenced my thinking about poliovirus pathogenesis, for which I am very grateful to Dr. Johnson.
Aaron J. Shatkin was well known for his work on reoviruses beginning in the 1960s in his laboratory at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, NJ and then at Rutgers University. He was among the first to appreciate that virus particles contained many different enzymes, such as RNA polymerase and poly(A) polymerase,Â that could be readily purified and used to study aspects of the viral replication cycle. His studies of reovirus mRNAs revealed an unusual methylated, blocked 5′-terminal structure, m-7G(5′)ppp(5′)G-MpCp-. He found that the 5′-terminal G of reovirus mRNAs made in purified virions or in infected cells was linked to the second G via a 5′-5′ chemical linkage, not the typical 5′-3′ linkage found in nucleic acids. This structure, soon to be called the cap, was subsequently found on many other viral and cellular mRNAs. His laboratory found that the cap is required for efficient translation of mRNA and also for mRNA stability. His discovery of a protein that binds the cap, now called eIF4E, lead to our understanding of how ribosomes are recruited to mRNAs to initiate protein synthesis. In recent years he became interested in the enzymatic machinery in cells that is responsible for synthesis of the cap structure, the capping enzyme. He studied the role of the capping enzyme in the nematode C. elegans and, in one of his last papers, solved the structure of the protein.
I have very good memories of Aaron: in 1979 I interviewed for a postdoctoral position in his laboratory at the Roche Institute (during my seminar I also met Ann Skalka with whom I co-authored a virology textbook many years later). Aaron was the first to offer me a postdoctoral position. I recall him being extremely kind and genuinely interested in my career. When I told him I was also interested in David Baltimore’s laboratory, he quipped ‘You’ll be lucky to even talk to him’; but he had a smile on his face. I was lucky to obtain a position in the Baltimore lab, and when I called Aaron to tell him, he was extremely gracious and congratulatory.
Over the years I met Aaron on many occasions; he was always friendly and cheerful and we often had long scientific conversations. When I moved to Scotch Plains, NJ in 1989 I was surprised to find that Aaron lived just around the corner, less than a mile away. I often saw him jogging by my home on Saturday mornings. Once I pointed him out to my older son: ‘that is the man who discovered the cap on mRNAs!’ My son had just studied the mRNA cap in high school biology so he knew what I meant. After that he often told his friends that the cap-discoverer lived near him in NJ.
Several years ago, when our town wanted to build a home on a nearby small island of land, residents organized a rally to protest the development. It was called ‘Save Cooper Road Island‘ and Aaron and his wife Joan came to lend their support! You can see me with Aaron in photographs of the event (In the photo at left, he is to my left, wearing khaki pants, a dark jacket, and white cap; I am holding a sign, and Joan is to my right).
Just over a year ago he interrupted one of his runs to come by and tell me that his wife had passed away. ‘It’s a bummer’, he said, ‘I have to do all the cooking and cleaning by myself’. I asked him when he was going to retire, and he said now that his wife had died, he would probably keep working as long as he lived. Which he did.
Aaron was a terrific person and scientist. I will miss watching him jog by, telling people that my neighbor discovered the mRNA cap, and thinking about him as I drive past his home. I had planned for years to organize a dinner with him and my Ph.D. mentor, Peter Palese (Peter did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Roche Institute while Aaron was there and knew him well). I also planned to interview Aaron for TWiV. Now I can’t do either. I really should learn not to put off doing important things.
Robert A. Weisberg was a Scientist Emeritus at NCI until the time of his death on 1 September 2011. Previously he was Chief of Microbial Genetics at NICHHD, a position he retired from in 2008. He was aÂ pioneer in the study of the bacteriophage lambda. His research lead to seminal contributions about how bacteriophage lambda integrates into the E. coli chromosome. His laboratory produced the first library of cloned genes, using lambda transducing phages. Weisberg’s work was a combination of biochemical and genetic approaches, and he was an expert in both disciplines.
My colleague Max Gottesman was a good friend of Weisberg and writes:
Bob was a wonderful colleague; he shared freely his innovative ideas with others, had no issues with authorship, and welcomed the success of others â€“ in short, a model citizen/scientist. He leaves behind a substantial scientific legacy that taken together established lambda as a model system for the study of recombination and gene control and an important tool for bacterial genetics. And those who knew him personally feel that he enriched their lives, and that an era has ended with his passing.
Weisberg’s recent review, co-authored with Gottesman, Little lambda, who made thee?, is an excellent review of the virus and its contribution to the field of molecular biology.
We note the passing of Bernard F.Â Erlanger, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Microbiology & Immunology at Columbia University Medical Center. Bernie, asÂ he was known to his colleagues, joined our department in 1952 afterÂ earning his Ph.D. in biochemistry at Columbia University in 1951, andÂ remained a member of the department until he passed away on SeptemberÂ 8, 2011. Dr. Erlanger served as directorÂ of the department’s graduate program for many years, then as ActingÂ and Deputy Chair of the department, and was also the Chair of theÂ Science & Technology Policy Committee at Columbia.
Dr. Erlanger had a distinguished career as a biochemist andÂ immunologist, and his research interests were very broad. TheyÂ included developing receptor specific antibodies using an auto-anti-idiotypic strategy, studying nucleic acid structure and conformation,Â investigating microtubule assembly, and developing antibodies toÂ carbon nanotubules and fullerenes. He was an active inventor withÂ over a dozen scientific patents, including patents for the creationÂ and delivery of specific antibodies, detection of HIV, and treatmentÂ of HIV and sickle cell disease. Dr. Erlanger was the recipient of manyÂ scientific awards and honors throughout his career, including aÂ Fulbright Scholarship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the TownsendÂ Harris Medal.
Australian virologist Frank Fenner, MD was born in Ballarat, Victoria in 1914. He earned a Doctor of Medicine in 1942 at the University of Adelaide, and from 1940 – 1946 he worked on the malaria parasiteÂ in Egypt and Papua New Guinea as an officer in the Australian Army Medical Corps. He subsequently began studying the pathogenesis of mousepox virus at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. Later he was appointed Professor of Microbiology at the John Curtin School of Medical Research at the Australian National University, where he continued his work on viruses, including myxoma virus. His interest in the balance between virus virulence and host resistance was put to practical use in an effort to control Australia’s rabbit plague through theÂ introduction of myxoma virus.
Dr. Fenner was a co-author ofÂ The Biology of Animal Viruses, first published in 1968. I still have my paperback ‘student’s edition’ which served as my virology bible during my years as a Ph.D. student. Later, when I was developing virology lectures for medical and graduate students, I relied on this book heavily. From the introduction:
During the last twenty years virology has developed into an independent science. It is now growing so rapidly that two new journals of virology were launched this year. Four major works on viruses of vertebrate animals have been published recently….However, none of these books deals in a comprehensive way with the broader biological principles of animal virology, which is the aim of this two-volume work.
The idea of presenting virology as a series of principles, not simply a list of viruses, was novel, and inspired us during the writing ofÂ Principles of Virology many years later.
Fenner’s classic studies on mousepox pathogenesis were the ï¬rst to demonstrate how disseminatedÂ viral infections develop from local multiplication to primaryÂ and secondary viremia. In the case of mousepox, after localÂ multiplication in the foot, the host response leads to swellingÂ at the site of inoculation; after viremia, the host response toÂ replication in the skin results in a rash. The figure at left depicting these events is included in Principles of Virology, because the findings serve as a paradigm for many other viral infections.
Fenner was also well known for his work on rabbitpox. European rabbits were introduced into Australia for hunting in 1859, and lacking natural predators, they reproduced to plague proportions.Â The rabbitpoxvirus, myxoma virus, was released in Australia in the 1950s in an attempt to rid the continent of these rabbits.Â In the ï¬rst year, the infection killed the rabbits withÂ a 99.8% mortality rate. By theÂ second year the mortality dropped to 25%, and subsequently theÂ rate of killing was lower than the reproductive rate of the rabbits, ending any hope forÂ 100% eradication of the animals.Â The most important lesson from this incident is that the original idea to eliminate rabbits with a lethal virus was flawed, because powerful selective forces that could not be controlled or anticipated were at work. Fenner published a series of journal articles from 1950-1964 which carefully documented the changes in the virus and the host that occurred during this incident.
Fenner F (2010). Deliberate introduction of the European rabbit, Oryctolagus cuniculus, into Australia. Revue scientifique et technique (International Office of Epizootics), 29 (1), 103-11 PMID: 20617651
FENNER F, & WOODROOFE GM (1965). CHANGES IN THE VIRULENCE AND ANTIGENIC STRUCTURE OF STRAINS OF MYOMA VIRUS RECOVERED FROM AUSTRALIAN WILD RABBITS BETWEEN 1950 AND 1964. The Australian journal of experimental biology and medical science, 43, 359-70 PMID: 14343496