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Koshland Wins Lasker Award

By Tamara Keith, Public Affairs
posted September 23, 1998

Daniel Koshland, Jr., a long-time Berkeley researcher and former editor of Science magazine, will receive the Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science on Friday, Sept. 25.

The Lasker awards are often referred to as "America's Nobels." Many Lasker recipients have also received the Nobel prize. This award honors Koshland's lifelong contributions to medical science.

"It's a good award and I am very pleased," said Koshland, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology. "It's nice to know that people think what you did was important."

At 78 Koshland continues to teach, conduct research and serve on the Council for the National Academy of Sciences. This semester he is teaching a freshman seminar called "Does Science Bring Happiness or Simply Technological Advances?"

"Dan Koshland is not only a brilliant scientist, but also an outstanding leader," said Executive Vice Chancellor Carol Christ after hearing that Koshland would receive the Lasker award. "He has contributed more than any individual to the biology program at Berkeley."

In the '80s Koshland headed a decade-long campaign to modernize Berkeley's biological sciences. This included combining the campus's 12 small biology departments into three large ones, raising funds for two new biology buildings (including Koshland Hall, which was dedicated in his name in 1992) and renovating a third.

"Dan has been an intellectual leader on this campus for decades," said Robert Tjian, chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Council on Biology. "First by example -- by doing great research and being an excellent teacher-- and second by advising the Chancellor (both Heyman and Tien) as the first chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Council on Biology."

About his stint as editor of Science Koshland said, "I loved it. I did it for 10 years and I enjoyed every minute of it."

As editor, Koshland made several major changes to Science magazine. Most significantly, he shifted the membership of its editorial board from writers to scientists with PhDs. This meant that published articles were chosen for their scientific excitement rather than verbal artistry.

When he began as editor in 1985, Koshland often relied on his friends for articles. However, by the time he left the magazine in 1996 so many scientists were submitting articles that only one in 10 was accepted for publication.

He left Science to return to his Berkeley lab.

In his 33 years as a Berkeley researcher and professor, Koshland has produced major advances in the understanding of enzymes and protein chemistry. Best known is his "induced fit theory," which claims that enzymes change shape (like a glove when a hand is inserted) as they react with other molecules.

Koshland is currently involved in two research endeavors. He is studying the chemical reactions involved in Alzheimer's disease by analyzing changes in brain cells. He is also looking at how to make better catalysts by modifying enzymes. Specifically he is interested in making enzymes to convert the chlorine in compounds like DDT into harmless salts. This could be very helpful with environmental clean-up and waste disposal, he said.


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