July 2010

Getting to Know Suzanne Pfeffer

“We may have identified more than 10,000 proteins,” Pfeffer continues. “But we don’t have 10,000 labs to study these proteins in detail. Now, we need to identify the most important questions and work with whatever proteins, pathways or techniques are required to answer it.”

More on Suzanne Pfeffer

Suzanne Pfeffer received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1978, during which time she did undergraduate research on bacterial RNA polymerase with Michael Chamberlin and published her first scientific article, in the JBC (1). She then moved on to the University of California, San Francisco, for her graduate studies, where she was encouraged to try something new scientifically, and so began working with Regis Kelly on the biochemistry of clathrin-coated vesicles – beginning her lifelong research love of membrane trafficking. After graduating in 1982, she did a postdoc at Stanford University with James Rothman on protein sorting and transport in the Golgi, subsequently joining the Stanford faculty in 1986.

Currently, she continues to work on the molecular basis of membrane trafficking, with an emphasis on the Rab GTPases, which are key coordinators of vesicle traffic between organelles.

When she’s not hard at work in lab, Pfeffer enjoys tennis and scuba diving— the latter giving her an opportunity to meet her favorite animal, Metasepia pfefferi, also known as Pfeffer’s Flamboyant Cuttlefish.

So, Pfeffer believes it’s important that professors adjust their mentoring to train students not just on facts or methodologies, but also how to ask the right questions and to identify and solve problems.

They also need to expose students to the full range of career options available. “The statistics show that many students, even in the very top programs, are not necessarily going to continue in academia,” Pfeffer says. “And, from my own experiences at Stanford, I know that students are clamoring for more information about their future. So it’s vital that our society look at how to better prepare students and postdocs to enter the greater society as a whole.”

Pfeffer will explore the possibility of hosting some regional meetings specifically for students and postdocs to provide career-building assistance, and give the students a chance meet other students with similar, and different, interests. And, importantly, it might be a way to increase membership amongst the younger scientists, which is another major goal for Pfeffer.

“I have a lot of enthusiasm, and I like to see change happen,” Pfeffer explains in discussing all her energy and ideas even as she is just settling in to her new post. If these first few days are any indication, ASBMB does indeed have a new president to be reckoned with.


1. Pfeffer, S. R., Stahl, S. J., and Chamberlin, M. J. (1977) Binding of Escherichia coli RNA Polymerase to T7 DNA. Displacement of Holoenzyme from Promoter Complexes by Heparin. J. Biol. Chem. 252, 5403 – 5407.

Nick Zagorski (nzagorski@asbmb.org) is a science writer at ASBMB.

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Very excellent introduction to a remarkable young lady scientist1 Kudos to all who were involved in this venture! Dr. Vadiraja V. Murthy


This is well written and useful to become acquainted with the philosophy of our new president. It never occurred to me to tell my neighbor on a plane ride that her/his tax money pays for my work. What a good idea! Liz Neufeld



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