David B. Knaff (1941 – 2016)

Published May 4 2016


David Barry Knaff, an expert on redox reactions in plant photosynthesis and professor at Texas Tech University, died in January in Lubbock, Texas. He was 74.

Knaff led Texas Tech’s biotechnology and genomics department and was a former editor-in-chief of the journal Photosynthesis Research. His research focused on the mechanistic details of redox reactions in plant photosynthesis with an emphasis on nitrate and sulfate assimilation and the redox regulation of carbon metabolism.

Born June 5, 1941, in the Bronx, N.Y., Knaff attended the Bronx High School of Science before completing a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received his master’s and Ph.D. in chemistry from Yale University, where he was a National Science Foundation predoctoral fellow.

After his formal education, Knaff transitioned to plant biochemistry — a field he committed to for the next 50 years. He served as a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1964 to 1968 and stayed at UC Berkeley as a staff scientist in cell physiology from 1968 to 1976.

Knaff joined the Chemistry Department at Texas Tech in 1976 and in 1987 received the university’s highest faculty rank, the Paul Whitfield Horn professorship. During his tenure, Knaff chaired the school’s chemistry and biochemistry department, co-established and served as director of the Center of Biotechnology and Genomics, and led efforts to create a biotechnology master’s program and dual degree M.S./J.D. program with the Texas Tech University School of Law.

Along with the consecutive funding he received from federal agencies and private foundations for 43 years and his more than 220 refereed journal articles, Knaff’s accolades included Texas Tech’s President’s Academic Achievement Award, the Barnie E. Rushing Jr. Faculty Distinguished Research Award and the Texas Academic Reward for College Scholars Scientist of the Year award.

Knaff leaves behind a wife, Joyce R. Kobb, a daughter and a granddaughter.

–Written by Jennifer A. Codding-Bui