February 2011

Ruma V. Banerjee and Stephen W. Ragsdale: deciphering sulfur and carbon metabolism

A gas channel between the active sites of CO dehydrogenase (C) and acetyl-CoA synthase (A). Ragsdale is studying this enzyme complex, which is responsible for reductive conversion of CO2 to acetyl-CoA. Revised from Doukov, T. I., et al. (2008). Biochem. 47, 3474-3483.

“We also made the conscious decision that we would not work in the same lab,” Banerjee says. “Steve was a little ahead of me in his career, so when I started my independent work, I did not want to be seen as riding his coattails or risk working in his shadow.”

They eventually found a suitable joint destination at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and both took positions there in 1991. “Initially, it was a compromise destination,” Banerjee says, “but we quickly felt right at home, and the time we spent there was extremely positive.”

Along the way, they also helped bolster Nebraska’s research reputation through their prolific research and numerous honors; Banerjee even helped establish the National Institutes of Health-funded Redox Biology Center at the university in 2002 to explore redox metabolism and its connection to disease.

Such outstanding work received notice, and the pair eventually was recruited back to Michigan in 2007 (though Ragsdale never officially attended Michigan, he says he felt like an adopted member of Matthews’ lab, so it felt like a return trip).

Today, they continue exploring the frontiers of redox enzymology and one-carbon metabolism, though in different ways – Banerjee through studying mammalian pathways and clinical applications and Ragsdale through his work on microbial chemistry and applications in biotechnology.

“We do have joint lab meetings, so our students benefit from the shared expertise in our groups,” Banerjee says. “But over the years we have managed to keep our research aims different and maintain scientific independence.”

There were a couple of moments when they considered running a lab in parallel, she notes, but in the end they thought the management involved would be a little too complex.

“It’s kind of funny,” Ragsdale adds. “We started our relationship with a scientific collaboration, but in the 20 years since, we’ve both had independent careers; we’ve only published one Annual Reviews article together.”

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