September 2011

Retrospective: Nathan Sharon (1925 – 2011)

Broad interests in natural phenomena were a hallmark of Sharon, and he was drawn to an old finding related to the aggregation of cells. The first observations that some naturally occurring molecules (agglutinins) could cause specific types of cells to aggregate date to the late 19th century. This phenomenon remained for decades in the category of “interesting observations,” with little known about the nature of the interacting species, the mechanism involved or the underlying basis for the apparent specificity. Unraveling this puzzle became Nathan’s lifework. He brought lectins to the limelight, defined the molecular nature of the saccharide recognition and served as a founding father for the general area of cell-cell recognition.

During his distinguished career at the Weizmann, in addition to maintaining a world-class research program (400 published papers plus many books authored or edited, several of which are considered classics), he was active in administrative affairs (department chairman, dean), trained numerous now-successful investigators and brought science alive to the general public through his work as science editor of the Haaretz newspaper and as editor for a regular radio broadcast on modern science. Among his numerous awards are the Israel Prize for biochemistry (1994), the Rosalind Kornfeld award for lifetime service to glycobiology and an honorary doctorate from the University of Paris. 

To Sharon, science was personal. His travels took him all over the world not only to be a laboratory guest or attend conferences but also to get to know glycoscientists. Sharon was truly an unofficial worldwide ambassador for glycoscience, and those who knew him always will remember his personal warmth and graciousness.

A note from Eugene A. Davidson: I first met Nathan when he visited the laboratory of professor Karl Meyer at Columbia University, where I was a graduate student, in 1953 or thereabouts. He was then, as always, personally engaging and enthusiastic about science, quizzing me in detail about my work. 

retro_2_author_Gene-DavidsonEugene A. Davidson (davidson@georgetown.edu) is a professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry and molecular and cell biology at the Georgetown University School of Medicine.

 

 

retro2_author_Eve-Ida-Barak-Eve Ida Barak (ebarak@alumni.brown.edu) is a former (now retired) program director for cellular biosciences at the National Science Foundation.

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