In Memoriam

In memoriam: Charles Rock

Naushin Raheema
By Naushin Raheema
Feb. 26, 2024

Charles Owen Rock, a faculty member in the Department of Host-Microbe Interactions at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and a National Institutes of Health principal investigator, died Sept. 22, 2023. He was 73 and had been a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology for almost four decades.

Charles Rock

Born Dec. 23, 1949, in Baltimore to Raymond Rock and Ann Riffee, Rock earned a Ph.D. in lipid biochemistry in 1976 at the Biology Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, University of Tennessee. He held postdoctoral positions at Yale University and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign.

Rock began his 43-year career at St. Jude in January 1980. He was a classical biochemist with many grants and publications when he joined the hospital where he continued his extensive research into fatty acid production.

Lipids were Rock's initial interest. In 1992, the Journal of Biological Chemistry published his co-discovery of FabH, an enzyme that speeds up the first condensation reaction in bacterial fatty acid synthesis. In 2006, Molecular Cell published his discovery of acyl-phosphates as intermediates in lipid metabolism.

Over several decades, Rock methodically worked to solve the mystery of fatty acid production. He identified significant metabolic pathways, regulators and intermediates. Additionally, his research sparked interest in fatty acid synthase inhibitors as a potential new antibiotic class for bacteria.

Rock contributed to more than 240 scholarly articles, wrote more than 25 reviews and contributed to 14 books. He has over 20,000 citations. He was a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and possessed multiple patents. During his career, he gave more than a hundred speeches. He received consistent NIH funding over all his years at St. Jude.

Rock was never short of ideas, initiatives, or theories, his colleagues said. However, he consistently mentioned the importance of conducting research at the forefront of innovation. He wanted to make an impact and pave the way.

Chuck possessed an insatiable curiosity, according to his obituary. He enjoyed activities such as nature photography, golf, video games, coaching, chess, and delving into Civil War history.

He is survived by his wife, Suzanne Jackowski Rock; son, Andrew; sister, Jane; and granddaughter, Savannah.

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Naushin Raheema
Naushin Raheema

Naushin Raheema is a science communicator and writer. She writes articles on health, space, genetics and the environment. She writes poems and does art journaling in her free time.

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