June 2010

Muchas Gracias, Amigos

Years of lean funding have led to a climate that is discouraging some of our best young people from entering, or remaining in, science. They also are bleeding away a generation of mid-career investigators just when their leadership is needed most at many institutions. I don’t know whether the answer lies in a commitment by the government to provide stable funding for our major grant-making agencies or in a reduction in the size of all awards so that more can be funded, or both, but, I do know that the roller coaster must stop. Unfortunately, that may depend on a healthy, growing economy, and your guess is as good as mine about the prospects for that.

Biochemistry itself also is at something of a cross roads. The quintessential reductionist science, it is being eclipsed in some quarters by the frenetic data-gathering efforts of genomics (and other “-omics”) and the mathematically driven modeling of systems biology. I, for one, remain unconvinced that reams of data inevitably lead to big insights, and that to model something means you understand it in depth. For me, biochemistry remains a vital and essential science, as important a part of the efforts of modern biology as any other discipline. But, I think we need to do a better job than we have in making that case to young scientists, the funding agencies, our governments and the lay public. Integrating some of the methods from genetics, genomics and systems biology into our own work might not be a bad idea either.

I’ll continue to write about all this, of course, in my regular monthly column for Genome Biology, as well as in occasional opinion pieces for BMC Biology and EMBO Reports. I may even revisit these pages from time-to-time, as I love the audience they reach. But for now, it’s time for El Presidente, as one member called him, to say “Adios.”

From time to time, members have asked me if there was anything that surprised me about being president. It probably was the easiest question I’ve had to answer. When I started this job, I liked ASBMB a lot, but, I didn’t love it. I do now, and that was something I never expected to happen. You normally don’t love something as impersonal as an organization, but I was amazed at how easy it was to love ASBMB once I really got to know it. That was entirely due to the people involved with it, and I want to say thanks to all of them from the bottom of my heart.

First and foremost, my heartfelt gratitude goes to Barbara Gordon, the society’s executive director, for showing me the ropes and keeping this chronic procrastinator mindful of his duties. Her patience, good humor and all-around competence were a constant source of support and encouragement. I can say pretty much the same about Jessica Homa, Joan Geiling, Sarah Crespi, and all the ASBMB staff (too numerous to mention here, but see http://bit.ly/cSQTJH for a complete list). The dedication that they have to the society is heart-warming, and their tireless efforts on its behalf are one of the main reasons for its continued success.

For more information

• Listen to a series of  podcast interviews with Gregory Petsko.

•A symposium celebrating the 30- year collaboration between Gregory Petsko and Dagmar Ringe.

I must not forget to offer my thanks, and my deep respect, to those members who devote their time and efforts to our council and to our standing committees as well (a list can be found at http://bit.ly/cetJQB). It is to them, not the President, that the real work of governing the society falls, and we have a remarkable group carrying that out. You see, I rapidly came to understand that there must be something special about ASBMB if so many terrific scientists, all of whom are incredibly busy, would make its service a priority in their lives. That was when I realized that I had started to feel more than just a liking for it.

Last, and by no means least, I want to say thank you to you, our members. Thank you for making biochemistry and molecular biology as vital and relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 20th. Thank you for reading our journals and paying your dues and coming to our meetings. Thank you for upholding the high standards of our profession in all that you do. Thank you for the advice you gave me during my time in office— even when I didn’t take it, I assure you I listened to it and I valued it. Thank you for writing to ASBMB Today and making its letter pages a vibrant source of debate. Thank you for your praise, your suggestions, your criticism, your complaints and your good wishes. I needed every bit of it. Most of all, thank you for caring. Don’t ever stop.


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Thank you for your service as ASBMB president. I have enjoyed reading your messages in ASBMB Today, which I found inspirational and entertaining. They made us feel proud of being a biochemist and members of ASBMB. All the best, Pat Becerra, NIH


Greg: Thanks for your dedicated stewardship of the ASBMB. Your editorials in ASBMB Today alone were worth the price of membership and, as you point out in your parting piece, one gets so much more out of being part of such an important organization, one that represents the very best of our chosen profession. Best wishes, Jeremy Thorner, UC Berkeley





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