May 2010

ASBMB’s International Flavor


Sci-Focus---FutermanAnthony H. Futerman

Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel

Although he often dreamed of pursuing an academic career during his youth in England, Anthony H. Futerman notes that the deal was officially sealed when he got a hold of a certain iconic biochemistry textbook.

“Blame Lehninger,” he says. “I was given a copy of that book by my high school teacher, and I found it so fascinating that, right then and there, I decided to become a biochemist, at the age of 16,” he says. Futerman enjoyed the book so much, in fact, that he purchased his own copy two years later when he went to the University of Bath for undergraduate studies, a copy he still displays proudly on his office shelf at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

Fittingly, a book also would play a prominent role in leading Futerman to this renowned scientific institution in Rehovot, Israel. He found an article about the Weizmann Institute in the Encyclopedia Britannica when he was young, and, after his university adviser mentioned that Weizmann might be a good destination for graduate school, Futerman decided that was where he wanted to go.

Three decades later, Futerman, now the Joseph Meyerhoff professor of biochemistry, is still going strong at Weizmann— although he did travel abroad for a short postdoctoral fellowship with Richard Pagano at the Carnegie Institute in Baltimore— studying the biochemistry of sphingolipids, an important lipid class with functions in both membrane biology and cell signaling, and their role in lysosomal storage diseases like Gaucher and Tay Sachs.

“It’s not too surprising, since historically, education and Jewishness always go together, but there is a wonderful scientific culture here at Weizmann,” Futerman notes of this somewhat unusual research university that solely offers graduate and postdoctoral education. “And that was even before we had our first Nobel Prize winner this past year (Ada Yonath). But, I think that helped make us even more visible on the international scientific map.”

Add the fact that Futerman, along with about half of Weizmann’s 250 international faculty members, gets to live on the picturesque campus and only has a short walk to his lab, and one can understand the appeal.

The only downside is that Futerman is the sole lipid specialist at Weizmann (his colleague and fellow international ASBMB member Mordechai Liscovitch recently passed away), although Futerman has remedied that through numerous external collaborations with labs all over the world, such as Al Merrill’s group at Georgia Tech, and frequent travel to meetings.

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