April 2010

Retrospective: Philip Siekevitz (1918–2009)

Next, Siekevitz and Palade became interested in membrane formation and found that various microsomal enzymes had different time courses of appearance in the endoplasmic reticulum. They demonstrated that there is a turnover of enzymes in the endoplasmic reticulum, with each protein having a characteristic half-life. From this, they inferred the presence of a substructure where newly synthesized enzymes were deposited.

Also, with Rachele Maggio, they carried out the first systematic fractionation of nuclei, leading to a clean separation of nucleoli and nucleoplasm that enabled a new era of biochemical investigation of the nucleus.

As an independent member of the Rockefeller faculty, Siekevitz changed the focus of his research to the nervous system and the events that occur at the neural synapse. By chance, he discovered postsynaptic density, a finding made a year earlier by Carl Cotman, and became convinced that the density represented a separate subcellular structure that underlies the postsynaptic membrane. For the next 16 years, Siekevitz and his colleagues incisively studied postsynaptic density, determining which proteins were attached to it. He retired from Rockefeller in 1988.

Siekevitz was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975 and became the president of the American Society for Cell Biology in 1966 and president of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1976. He was an advocate of the social responsibilities of scientists and a founding member of the New York Scientists Committee for Public Information. He was also co-author of one of the first textbooks on cell biology, Cell Structure and Function, published in 1963.

Nicole Kresge (nkresge@asbmb.org) is the editor of ASBMB Today.

 

Feel free to add your reflections on Philip Siekevitz in the comment section below.

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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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