November 2010

Honoring Jeremy Berg

ASBMB Past-president Howard K. Schachman.

Congress wants cures for major diseases, and it is our job to explain how basic science has, and will, continue to lead to those cures. In his testimony for the House Appropriations Subcommittee earlier this year, Berg described “Good Science for Better Health.” As an example of the major impact of basic science on clinical therapies, he noted, “…Studies by the NIH Pharmacogenetics Research Network (PGRN) have shown that genetic information can help predict how heart drugs, cancer medicines, nicotine patches and a range of other treatments will work in a particular person. This research is contributing to personalized approaches to health care.” We need to keep telling these stories.

There currently are strong pressures to carry out translational research, and there are so many examples of translational breakthroughs that could never have been anticipated without fundamental, basic research groundwork. The Journal of Biological Chemistry is considering initiating a series of articles providing the background biochemistry that led to new approaches to disease therapies. These will be useful in teaching and can provide a framework for more streamlined versions to be widely shared with the public. We need to enlist all of our members, textbook authors (including NIH institute directors) and biochemistry teachers to rephrase these success stories for public (and congressional) education.

During his tenure as chairman of ASBMB’s Public Affairs Advisory Committee, Schachman became involved in a variety of heated policy discussions on topics such as indirect cost rates, fraud in science and even age-based, mandatory faculty retirement. In 1990, he filed an age-discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that later was upheld by the State of California: from that day forward, age-based mandatory retirement of faculty was rescinded. A significant fear at the time of this decision was that the average age of faculty would increase and faculty billets might not be available to permit hiring of new, energetic, more junior colleagues. Although there is no doubt that this certainly has occurred, the recent challenge of obtaining and sustaining research funding is encouraging new retirements at an increasing rate.

Join me in thanking Jeremy Berg for doing all that he can to stretch research dollars when funds have to go further. He is working for all of us, to help us discover the molecular basis of many life processes that provide the underpinnings for future advances in health and medicine.


1. Schachman, H. K. (2006) From “Publish or Perish” to “Patent and Prosper.” J. Biol. Chem. 281, 6889 – 6903.
2. Schachman, H. K. (2000) Still Looking for the Ivory Tower. Annu. Rev. Biochem. 69, 1 – 29.
3. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D. and Hill, R. L. (2007) Innovations in Ultracentrifugation and an Analysis of Aspartate Transcarbamoylase: The Work of Howard K. Schachman. J. Biol. Chem. 282, e16.
4. Berg, J. M., Tymoczko, J. L. and Stryer, L. (2006) Biochemistry, W. H. Freeman, 6th Ed.


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Both Jeremy Berg and Howard Schachman are pioneering leaders in all aspects of biochemistry: research, teaching, and (most rare) administration. This excellent article appropriately honors both of these great biochemists. Albert S. Mildvan M.D. Professor Emeritus of Biological Chemistry and Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine



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