ASBMB Past Presidents

1921-1922 – Donald D. Van Slyke

(1883–1971)

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Van Slyke

Donald Dexter Van Slyke, president of the American Society of Biological Chemists from 1921 to 1922, was born in Pike, New York. He received a bachelor's degree in Chemistry and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry (1907) from the University of Michigan. Van Slyke's career as a biochemist began at Rockefeller University in 1907. His first independent report described the quantification of aliphatic amino acids using nitrous acid to measure α-amino acid nitrogen. This was a gasometric method, an approach that characterized his entire research career.

In 1914, Van Slyke was appointed chemist at the newly opened Rockefeller Hospital. There, he devised a simple gasometric method for accurately measuring the concentration of sodium bicarbonate in a milliliter of blood. For this assay he invented the Van Slyke volumetric gas apparatus, which was so useful that it became common in virtually all clinical laboratories and many biochemistry laboratories. Van Slyke also established the basic parameters that are used even today for diagnosis of acid-base abnormalities. Some of this research was featured as a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1). Among his other scientific contributions, Van Slyke developed approaches to the study of clinical problems such as acidosis and kidney disease. He showed that the liver plays an important role in amino acid metabolism and that the kidney produces ammonia. He also discovered a new amino acid, hydroxylysine, which is a prominent constituent of collagen.

At the age of 31, Van Slyke was asked to become the managing editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and served in that capacity until 1925. After resigning, he continued to serve as a member of the editorial board until 1950. In 1949, he became assistant director for biology and medicine at the newly formed Brookhaven National Laboratory. He continued his research at Brookhaven until a few months before his death. Van Slyke received 14 international scientific awards, including the Willard Gibbs Medal of the American Chemical Society, the Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians, and the National Medal of Science of the United States.

1. Simoni, R. D., Hill, R. L., and Vaughan, M. (2002) The measurement of blood gases and the manometric techniques developed by Donald Dexter Van Slyke. J. Biol. Chem. 277 (27)