ASBMB Past Presidents

1977 – Alton Meister




Alton Meister, President of the American Society of Biological Chemists in 1977, was born in New York City. He earned his B.S. from Harvard University in 1942 and his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in New York in 1945. He then went to the National Cancer Institute at National Institutes of Health and remained there until 1955 when he became chairman of the Biochemistry Department at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1967, Meister returned to the Cornell University Medical College and served as chairman of the college's Biochemistry Department until 1995. He was also biochemist-in-chief at New York Hospital from 1971 to 1995.

Meister spent much of his career studying the chemistry of glutathione, a ubiquitous compound that absorbs oxygen and thus protects cells from oxidation. He found that glutathione can dramatically block the spread of the AIDS virus in vitro and that the more glutathione that was used, the greater the effect. As a result, Meister helped transform glutathione into a drug that has shown some initial promise in reducing the growth of the AIDS virus. Meister's glutathione research was featured in a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1).

In addition to his work on glutathione, Meister authored the two-volume Biochemistry of Amino Acids and was editor of Advances in Enzymology and associate editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the Annual Review of Biochemistry.He served on several editorial boards, including those of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemistry, Methods in Biochemical Analysis, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, and the Annual Review of Biochemistry. Meister was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the New York Academy of Sciences. He received many honors including the American Chemical Society's Paul Lewis Award in Enzyme Chemistry (1954), the American Society of Biological Chemists William C. Rose Award in Biochemistry (1984), and the Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology Founders' Award (1985).

1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2007) The chemistry of glutathione: The work of Alton Meister. J. Biol. Chem. 282 (38)