ASBMB Past Presidents

1971 – Christian B. Anfinsen




Christian Boemer Anfinsen was born in Monessen, Pennsylvania. He earned his B.A. from Swarthmore College in 1937 and his M.S. in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1939. After receiving his master's degree, Anfinsen spent a year at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark. Upon his return to the United States in 1940, he entered Harvard University's Ph.D. program in biochemistry and earned his Ph.D. in 1943. His doctoral dissertation involved describing various methods for discerning the enzymes present in the retina of the eye. He spent the next seven years at Harvard Medical School, first as instructor and then as assistant professor of Biological Chemistry. Anfinsen left Harvard in 1950 to become chief of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) National Heart Institute Laboratory of Cellular Physiology. He returned to teaching at Harvard Medical School in 1962 but then went back to NIH 1 year later. This time he was named director of the Laboratory of Chemical Biology at the National Institute of Arthritis, Metabolism, and Digestive Diseases, a position he held until 1981. In 1982, he accepted an appointment as professor of biology at Johns Hopkins University.

In the mid 1950s Anfinsen began to focus on the relationship between structure and function in enzymes. On the basis of his studies with ribonuclease, he proposed that the information determining the tertiary structure of a protein resides in the chemistry of its amino acid sequence. Anfinsen's research on protein folding was featured as a Journal of Biological Chenistry Classic (1). This discovery was a major contribution to the scientific understanding of the nature of enzymes. For this achievement, Anfinsen shared the 1972 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Stanford Moore and William Howard Stein.

In addition to his research activities, Anfinsen was editor of Advances in Protein Chemistry, wrote The Molecular Basis of Evolution, and served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biopolymers, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. He was elected president of the American Society of Biological Chemists in 1971. His honors include a Rockefeller Foundation Public Service Award (1954), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1958), election to the National Academy of Sciences (1963) and the Royal Danish Academy (1964), and a National Library of Medicine Medal.

1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2006) The thermodynamic hypothesis of protein folding: The work of Christian Anfinsen. J. Biol. Chem. 281 (14)