April 2010

Retrospective: Philip Siekevitz (1918–2009)

 

Siekevitz
Photo courtesy of Rockefeller University.

Philip Siekevitz, a pioneer in cell biology and a professor emeritus at The Rockefeller University, passed away Dec. 5 at age 91.

Siekevitz was born in Philadelphia (1918) and attended the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. He became interested in biochemistry and wanted to go to graduate school, but he was drafted into the Army in his final year of college. He managed to defer for a year and graduated in 1942.

After almost four years of service, Siekevitz enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley. Working with David Greenberg, he studied amino acid metabolism and became one of the first to use radioactive amino acids to look at in vitro protein synthesis using cells and tissue slices.

Siekevitz earned his doctorate in biochemistry in 1949. He then joined Paul Zamecnik’s laboratory at Harvard’s Massachusetts General Hospital, where he collaborated with Fritz Lipmann, studying mitochondrial biochemistry. While at Harvard, Siekevitz was among the first to use subcellular fractions, microsomes, mitochondria and nuclei to look at protein synthesis. Previously, this was done with whole homogenates or tissue slices. His work at Mass General played an early role in Zamecnik’s successful development of a system for cell-free protein synthesis.

In 1951, Siekevitz became a postdoctoral fellow in Van R. Potter’s laboratory at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he studied the regulation of energy metabolism in mitochondria.

Three years later, George Palade invited Siekevitz to work with him at Rockefeller University. He and Palade spent the next 20 years as colleagues. The pair first studied the pancreas as a system for protein synthesis and secretion and, using radioactive amino acids, showed that the secretory enzymes of the pancreas were first synthesized on ribosomes and then transported across the endoplasmic reticulum membrane into the organelle’s lumen, finally appearing in the zymogen granules that were secreted into the lumen of the intestine.

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COMMENTS:

Phli was a great scientist and a wonderful human being, and I am sorry to hear-belatedly- of his death. As young faculty at Cornell , I was assigned by Fred Plum to do the Neurology consults at Rockefeller. I had done my thesis in Brussels on polyribosomes and mRNAs in brain, and through my Rockefeller visits became friend with Phil and his then postdoc Gunther Blobel. Phil was very generous, full of good advice, and his was the voice of wisdom. We stayed in touch after I moved to UCLA, and collaborated on studies of the role of calmodulinn kinase II in the postsynaptic density. Phil had a penetrating intelligence and could see right through problems, and people (when his generous nature let him). He retained that perspicacity well into his late 80's. He was a mensch.

 

This is a great article. I worked in Phil Siekevitz department as a tech during graduate school. He was a real mensch and a wonderful scientist.

 

I knew Philip Siekevitz when I was at Smithsonian Institution and he was on the Rockefeller faculty. I was interested in the work at Rockefeller because I was interested in membrane-bound ribosomes in chloroplasts. I was running a seminar series at Smithsonian. That is how I believe we had first contact. Sorry to hear of his death. Maurice Margulies

 

Add to the Obit: Phil, besides being a talented scientist, was a reliable friend and an all around fine gentleman. B.F. Erlanger

 

Extremely authoritative and engagingly written. Thoru Pederson

 

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