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Albert Lasker Award
for Special Achievement in Medical Science

Award Description

Daniel Koshland, Jr.

For a lifetime career devoted to elevating science to its highest level—exemplified by accomplishments on diverse fronts—as a visionary biochemist, tireless institution builder, and eloquent public communicator.

Daniel Koshland, Jr. has made contributions to the scientific enterprise that few can match. As a young researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, his work on the mechanisms by which enzymes and proteins function resulted in important conceptual advances in biochemistry. Koshland proposed that enzymes change their shape as they react with other molecules, leading to his "induced fit theory" that had extensive ramifications not only for enzymes but also in the control and regulation of biological systems. The induced fit theory postulated that the enzyme changed shape when it reacted like a glove into which a hand is thrust. Koshland has done seminal work on the mechanisms by which cells receive and respond to external cues, and showed through other ingenious experiments that bacteria have a rudimentary memory that affects their response to their environment.

In the 1980s, Koshland and his colleagues discovered essential features of signaling systems among cells. Now he is working on the chemical reactions involved in Alzheimer's by analyzing changes that occur inside the cells of the brain. A complete account of his scientific achievements would fill pages; in fact, they do fill the pages of some of the best biochemistry texts.

Koshland's talent for doing good science extends to a talent for recognizing good science by others and creating an environment in which imaginative research can flourish. In that vein, Koshland took it upon himself to remake the entire biology program at Berkeley, which was no small task as anyone who understands the difficulties of changing academia will appreciate. Historically, the biological sciences at Berkeley developed through 12 small departments with a population of 300 faculty members out of Berkeley's total faculty of 1,000. Of the university's 30,000 students, approximately 10 percent are graduate students or undergraduate majors in biology.

Fired by the belief that good science in the 21st century must cross disciplinary boundaries, Koshland spearheaded a reorganization, combining 12 small departments into three large ones. He was the key faculty leader in persuading the California state legislature to contribute funds for two new state-of-the-art biology buildings and the complete renovation of a third. One of them was named Koshland Hall by the University in honor of his role.

The creation of a new structure in biology made it easy for researchers to work on vital scientific questions without disciplinary limits. The reorganization took ten years to accomplish but the disciplinary walls in biology did come tumbling down. Berkeley biologists now find it easier not only to collaborate creatively with each other, but also to collaborate with colleagues in physics, chemistry, and other areas of science whose role in solving problems in biology is becoming more and more essential.

Koshland is also recognized for his broad contributions to science through his editorship of Science, a post he held from 1985 to 1995 while also maintaining his very productive laboratory at Berkeley. As editor of Science, Koshland attracted some of the most exciting research to the journal and enlivened its pages through his own editorials on research and science policy.

Finally, Koshland's commitment to science communication is evident through a gift to the National Academy of Sciences to build a public science center on the Academy's grounds in Washington, D.C. The center will be named in honor of his wife, the late Marian Elliott Koshland, an immunologist who shared Dan's lifelong concern for the public understanding of science, and was herself a member of the Academy. The center will feature displays that demonstrate how science works.

Dan Koshland's career in science that encompasses research, institution-building, and a commitment to both the scientific community and the public is truly remarkable. As his colleagues say admiringly, "he's one of a kind."