June 2011

Quentin H. Gibson (1918 – 2011)


Quentin H. Gibson, who is best known for his pioneering work on the kinetics of ligand binding to hemoglobins and the development of stopped-flow and flash photolysis instruments, passed away on March 16, 2011 in Hanover, N.H., at the age of 92. 

Gibson was born on Dec. 9, 1918 in Aberdeen, Scotland. In 1926, his father was appointed director of the Linen Industry Research Association, and the family moved to Glenmore House, Lambeg, Northern Ireland, about 10 miles south of Belfast, where Quentin spent his youth among the research laboratories and the elaborate grounds. He enrolled in Queen’s University Belfast, receiving an M.D. in 1944 and a Ph.D. in 1946. Gibson’s graduate research was based on studies of the reaction of methemoglobin with ascorbate, which reverses methemoglobinanemia (1, 2). His work with D.C. Harrison on familial idiopathic methemoglobinanemia was the first to show a genetic disorder to be due to an enzyme defect. In the Belfast cases, the anemia was due to the loss of diaphorase I activity, which now is known as NADH methemoglobin reductase or cytochrome-b5 reductase.

From 1947 to 1956, Gibson was successively appointed a lecturer, senior lecturer, and reader in the department of physiology in the school of medicine at the University of Sheffield. During this time, he began close collaborations with F. J. W. Roughton, who in 1923 built the first rapid mixing device with H. Hartridge to examine the rates of O2 and CO binding to hemoglobin and red cells. Gibson, who was a skilled machinist, designed and built a stopped-flow, rapid mixing spectrometer (3) and a flash photolysis apparatus (4, 5) to re-examine these reactions and, with Roughton, showed for the first time that the major increase in iron reactivity during cooperative ligand binding does not occur until roughly three ligands have been bound. Gibson and his colleagues then used these instruments to examine a variety of enzymatic and globin reactions. The stopped-flow spectrometer was commercialized by Durrum (later Dionex) Instruments, Inc. and sold as the “Durrum-Gibson” instrument until approximately 1990. 

While at the University of Sheffield, Gibson married and started a family. His wife, Audrey Jane (Pinsent) Gibson, obtained a doctorate from the University of London in 1949, where she discovered that selenite is required for the production of formate dehydrogenase in coliforms. After a year of study with C.B. Van Niel in California, she took a position in Sidney Elsden laboratory in Sheffield to characterize c-type cytochromes from photosynthetic bacteria. Like her husband, she had a long and distinguished career before her death on June 10, 2008.

In 1957, Gibson was awarded a professorship and the chair of the department of biochemistry at the University of Sheffield, replacing Hans Krebs, who took a position at the University of Oxford. Gibson brought together a remarkable group of biophysicists and enzymologists, including Gregorio Weber, Vincent Massey and Keith Dalziel, who each were elected either fellows of the London Royal Society or members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

In 1963, Gibson moved to the United States to take a joint professorship of biophysics and physical biochemistry at the Johnson Research Foundation and of physiology in the graduate school of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. While in Philadelphia, Gibson expanded his own work to studies of a variety of enzymes and, with Colin Greenwood, made the first measurements of bimolecular O2 binding to cytochrome c oxidase using a newly constructed flow flash apparatus, which set the standard for these types of measurements for more than 30 years.

In 1965, Gibson became the Greater Philadelphia Professor in the Section of Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology at Cornell University, where he remained until his retirement in 1996. While at Cornell, Gibson was elected a fellow of the London Royal Society in 1969, became a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences immediately after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1982, served as an associate editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1975 to 1994, and received the Keilin Memorial Medalist Award and Lectureship in 1990.


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I had the opportunity of working with Quentin for some months in 1990-1991, and greatly appreciated his profound insight and his patience and clarity in discussing and explaining the details of the experiments we were carrying out. I always felt greatly enriched by my experience at Cornell, and deeply indebted with him. Andrea Bellelli, Rome, Italy.


Not only was Quentin a remarkable and brilliant scientist, but he was also a kind and generous person, always ready to discuss science (yours and his) with insight and enthusiasm. He will be missed. Gordon Tollin, University of Arizona


I first met Quentin when we were both at the University of Sheffield in the 50's (I was in the chemistry department). Our group was studying nickel complexes, but the beautiful spectral changes were too fast to study by the usual method. Quentin introduced me to his stopped flow apparatus and we had instant success in measuring the kinetics of reactions of a large number of complexes for the first time, thanks to his kindness and considable help.In the U.S.for nearly 40 years our group studied a large number of inorganic and bioinorganic reactions using the Gibson-Dionex commercial apparatus.Our computerised set up was built by Dick DeSa who studied with Quentin.It is obvious then how indebted I am to Quentin Gibson so many years ago. Ralph G. Wilkins, Albuquerque, NM, USA.


In addition to his extensive research career, Quentin Gibson was a great mentor, generous with both his time and knowledge. From working with him at Rice University, I can attest to not only his scientific acumen, but his willingness to share what he knew and his excitement for heme proteins with multiple generations of students. He is greatly missed.



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