February 2010

Retrospective: Edwin G. Krebs (1918–2009)

It is a pleasure to remember Ed Krebs as a friendly and passionate teacher and science supervisor. His pioneering work on protein kinases as modulators of cellular functions served as a basis for my later investigations. He cordially shared his knowledge of biochemical methodology and readily participated in discussions on protein kinases and protein phosphatases. Much of what I and my colleagues were able to accomplish was made possible by his intuitive research.

Franz Hofmann
Emeritus professor of pharmacology
Technische Universität München

***

I was on a plane from Durham, N.C., to Seattle, Wash., to start my postdoc in Ed’s lab when Mount St. Helens first erupted. It was an apt introduction to my time in Ed’s lab. It was May 1980, and tyrosine phosphorylation of pp60src recently had been described. There followed a rapid explosion in our knowledge of protein tyrosine kinases, and Ed’s lab was the ideal place to be during this revolution. Ed was supportive of his postdocs who ventured into this new area, and he helped us apply the knowledge he had acquired in decades of studies on protein kinases to these new members of the family. He was rigorous in his approach to data but kind and patient at the same time. He was a wonderful mentor to whom I always will be grateful. 

Linda J. Pike
Professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics
Washington University School of Medicine

***

When I began working with Ed, his only directive was “find a protein kinase cascade— I know it exists.” This initiated studies that led to the discovery and characterization of MAP kinases and MAP kinase kinases. I could not have become a professor without Ed’s generosity in accepting me in his lab when my options were limited.

One of the most important lessons that Ed taught us by example was how to conduct ourselves as citizens within the scientific community. Our work on various projects led to competitive interactions with scientists at other institutions and sometimes within our own lab. Ed maintained a balanced approach to scientific competition, treating whomever he met as a colleague and showing him or her great respect and kindness. There were very few people who Ed disliked, and he always was able to find strengths in every person. I recall sessions in his office when Ed pulled out letters and other documents from his past that illustrated in various ways “how to handle oneself with aplomb.” Ed valued this deeply, and, in doing so, he set a high standard for fairness, collegiality and professional conduct, which continues to influence investigators throughout the field of signal transduction.

What I remember most fondly about Ed was his keen sense of humor. We’d have to pay close attention in order to pick up his hilarious observations, which were often delivered as soft, understated commentaries, as well as the occasional practical joke. The year was 1991 and Bill Clinton had generated controversy during the primaries with statements about his drug use. To kick off the annual Krebs & Fischer lab retreat at Mt. Rainier, Ed stood up and confessed to the group that “I too have used pot, but that was before I became a professor.” 

Natalie Ahn
Associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry
University of Colorado at Boulder

***

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COMMENTS:

I performed 2 years of post doctoral research on rabbit heart phosphorylase under Doctor Krebs. I still feel that I am a student learning of new advances in biochemistry from him. I was deeply moved and saddened to read of his passing. Louis Schliselfeld

 

I was deeply moved by the passing of Ed Krebs. John Scott captured what we all who knew him feel at his passing. Like many, we learned of his great joy of science and boundless ability to encourage the best science through his role as an editor. Later, at meetings of the editorial board of The JBC, I was able truly to appreciate his insights and to value his advice to me concerning my career path. Few will be as sorely missed as Ed Krebs. He left a legacy that we both admire and should try to emulate in some modest way. Craig C. Malbon Leading Professor and Director, DMDRC Department of Pharmacology SUNY-Stony Brook

 

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