Mary Ellen Jones was born in La Grange, Illinois. She earned a B.S. from the University of Chicago in 1944 and a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Yale University in 1951 under the direction of Joseph Fruton. She then did a postdoctoral fellowship with Fritz Lipmann in the Chemical Research Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital, where she remained until 1957, after which she served as a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry at Brandeis University. In 1966, Jones joined the University of North Carolina as an associate professor of biochemistry, and in 1968 was appointed professor in the Department of Zoology. She left Chapel Hill in 1971 for the University of Southern California and was a professor of biochemistry there until 1978. She then returned to the University of North Carolina as a professor and chair of the Biochemistry Department and was named a Kenan Professor in 1980. Jones was the first woman scientist to hold an endowed chair at the University of North Carolina and the first woman to become a department chair at the medical school.
For almost 50 years Jones was actively engaged in research related to amino acid metabolism and pyrimidine nucleotide metabolism. In collaboration with Leonard Spector, she was codiscoverer of carbamoyl phosphate, a compound essential for the biosynthesis of arginine and urea and also for the biosynthesis of pyrimidine nucleotides. Her work on carbamoyl phosphate was featured as a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1). Jones was also among the first to define the new area of multifunctional proteins with her studies of dihydroorotate synthase and uridine monophosphate synthase.
Jones was widely recognized for her scientific accomplishments and for her leadership roles. Among her awards were the Wilbur Lucius Cross Medal from Yale University (1982), the North Carolina American Chemical Society Distinguished Chemist (1986), the Thomas Jefferson Award from the University of North Carolina (1990), and the Award in Science from the state of North Carolina (1991). She was elected to the Institute of Medicine (1981), the National Academy of Sciences (1984), the American Association of Arts and Sciences (1991), and the American Philosophical Society (1994). Jones was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1986, and president of the American Association of University Professors in 1988.
1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2007) Carbamoyl phosphate biosynthesis: The work of Mary Ellen Jones. J. Biol. Chem. 282 (19)