ASBMB Past Presidents

1997 – I. Robert Lehman

(b. 1924)



I. Robert Lehman was born in Tauroggen, Lithuania. Before receiving a B.A. in chemistry (1950) and a Ph.D. in biochemistry (1954) from Johns Hopkins University, he was an infantryman in Europe during World War II. Lehman then became a postdoctoral fellow at the Washington University School of Medicine (1955–1958). His postdoctoral work with Arthur Kornberg in collaboration with Maurice Bessman and Ernest Simms resulted in the discovery of DNA polymerase and is the subject of a Journal of Biological Chemistry Classic (1). Lehman joined the Washington University faculty as an instructor in microbiology in 1958. In 1959, he joined the faculty of the newly formed Department of Biochemistry at the Stanford University School of Medicine as an assistant professor. Lehman served as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry from 1974 to 1979 and 1984 to 1986. He was named William Hume Professor in 1980, and continues in this position today.

At Stanford, Lehman worked on enzymes of DNA replication, recombination, and repair. Among the most notable of his accomplishments were the discovery of the Escherichia coli DNA ligase with Baldomero Olivera and the elucidation of the mechanism by which it catalyzes the synthesis of phosphodiester bonds between DNA molecules. This enzyme played a key role in the development of recombinant DNA technology. I. Robert Lehman and his students, Kevin McEntee, George Weinstock, and Michael Cox, discovered the strand exchange activity of the Escherichia coli Rec A protein, the key step in homologous recombination. Lehman and his collaborators also discovered DNA primase in eukaryotes. Most recently Lehman has been studying the replication of herpes viruses and the mechanism by which they establish latent infections.

In recognition of his scientific achievements, Lehman received the ASBMB-Merck Award in 1995. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1973) and the National Academy of Sciences (1977). He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Gothenburg and the University of Paris. He was president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1997, was on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1969 to 1974, and has served as an associate editor for the Journal from 1990 to the present.

1. Kresge, N., Simoni, R. D., and Hill, R. L. (2005) Arthur Kornberg's discovery of DNA polymerase I. J. Biol. Chem. 280 (49)