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UC Berkeley Press Release

Eminent biochemist Daniel Koshland has died

– Eminent biochemist Daniel E. Koshland Jr., former editor of the journal Science and a tireless booster of the biological sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, died yesterday (Monday, July 23) at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek, Calif., following a massive stroke.

Daniel Koshland Jr.
Daniel Koshland, pictured in 1991 when he was named Cal Alumnus of the Year. (Robert Holmgren photo)

Koshland, a long time professor of molecular and cell biology at UC Berkeley and a resident of Lafayette, Calif., was 87.

An insightful scientist known for his work on proteins and enzymes, Koshland achieved the status of scientific statesman during his 10 years, from 1985-1995, as editor of the nation's top scientific journal, Science.

"I was very familiar and admiring of Dan Koshland long before joining Berkeley because of his brilliant editorship of Science," said UC Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. "In my three years here as chancellor, he played the role of both friend and advisor. Dan was deeply loyal to Berkeley, sharing both his extraordinary wisdom and remarkable generosity with the campus. Berkeley's leadership in the life sciences rests on the organizational transformation that he effected in the 1980s. The campus is greatly saddened by the news of his passing."

"Dan Koshland was a rare bird," said Koshland's friend and colleague Joseph L. Goldstein, a Nobel laureate and professor of molecular genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. "His career in science was exemplified by a distinction achieved by only a handful of scientists who are held in universally high esteem by their colleagues because of their human qualities of honesty, kindness, unselfishness, originality and wisdom. And in Dan's case, there was also wit."

In what Koshland described as "one of the high points of my life," he spearheaded in the 1980s the large-scale reorganization of biology at UC Berkeley, pruning or merging 11 small departments encompassing 200 faculty members to end up with three that reflected new changes in the field - most importantly the emergence of recombinant DNA and a focus on gene and protein interactions. The reorganization, accompanied by a fund-raising campaign that built two new buildings and renovated a third, placed UC Berkeley "in a leadership role in the biological sciences," he subsequently wrote, and spurred many other universities to reorganize biology.

In recent years, Koshland provided leadership for the campus's $400 million Health Sciences Initiative and championed the need for renewed campus infrastructure to provide faculty and students with the physical environment and tools they need to explore the frontiers of modern science. Because of his vision, Stanley Hall, a new laboratory facility for bioscience teaching and research, will open this fall.

"People thought the reorganization was impossible, and I think no one else could have pulled it off," said Koshland's colleague Robert Tjian, UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology, adding, "Berkeley was his true love, and it has lost one of its great champions."

In 1992, the campus showed its appreciation for Koshland by naming a new biology research building Koshland Hall.

Tjian, who as a student had taken biochemistry courses from Koshland, noted his extraordinary teaching skills, "which were an unusual mixture of humor with very high standards and rigor," he said.

Koshland has given generously to the campus, including for construction of the Marian Koshland Bioscience and Natural Resources Library in the renovated Valley Life Sciences Building. The library's name honored his first wife, a UC Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology who died in 1997. Daniel Koshland also provided a major gift to endow the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. The couple were the lead donors to the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Science Center at Haverford College, the school in Haverford, Penn., that their two sons attended.

Among the many awards Daniel Koshland received from UC Berkeley were the Berkeley Medal, the Berkeley Citation and the Clark Kerr Award. He also was given the Alumnus of the Year award from the California Alumni Association in 1991.

He was a recipient of the National Medal of Science in 1990, a Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science in 1998, the Welch Award in Chemistry in 2006, the Edgar Fahs Smith and Pauling awards of the American Chemical Society in 1979, the Rosenstiel Medallion from Brandeis University in 1984, and the Merck Award from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1990.

Born in New York City on March 30, 1920, Koshland was the son of Daniel E. Koshland Sr., a banker who joined Levi Strauss & Co. in 1922 and moved his family west to San Francisco. Koshland Sr. eventually became vice president, president and chairman of the board of the company, remaining with the clothing manufacturer for 57 years.

Koshland Jr. developed an interest in science, however, not jeans. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he enrolled in UC Berkeley and graduated in 1941 with a B.S. in chemistry. He immediately joined the Manhattan Project group headed by Glenn Seaborg to isolate plutonium for an atomic bomb, following Seaborg to the University of Chicago and eventually to Oak Ridge, Tenn. At the University of Chicago, Koshland also met Marian Elliott, whom he married in 1945. In 1946, he returned from Tennessee to Chicago and stayed to complete his Ph.D. in organic chemistry in 1949, the same year his wife received her Ph.D. in immunology.

Following two postdoctoral years at Harvard University, the Koshlands moved to Long Island to work at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where they remained until 1965, when they were recruited to the UC Berkeley faculty. Daniel Koshland also had a joint appointment at Rockefeller University in New York from 1958 until 1965.

His initial research centered on the catalytic activity of enzymes - that is, how they speed up chemical reactions in the body. Focusing on the split-second moment when enzyme and chemical substrate come together, he found evidence that the accepted "lock and key" mechanism was wrong. In the late 1950s, he argued that the substrate does not fit precisely and rigidly into the enzyme's active pocket, but actually stretches and rearranges the pocket slightly, akin to the way a hand fits into a glove. He invented ingenious laboratory techniques that eventually convinced the scientific world that this "induced fit" theory was right.

In the 1970s, he turned from enzymology to the study of how bacteria respond to their environment - a subject called chemotaxis - as a simple type of memory that could be studied biochemically and genetically. He discovered that bacteria have a rudimentary type of memory that allows them to compare past and present, and he showed that bacteria detect the chemicals in their environment via receptors on their exterior, and that the receptors are linked to molecules inside that transmit the signal and change the bacteria's behavior. Koshland continued to work on this system until recently, and it has become a model for more complex responses by the senses of vision, hearing and smell.

In the 1980s, while devoting himself to the intellectual and physical reorganization of the biological sciences at UC Berkeley, he accepted the editorship of Science," - at the time "a good, but stodgy, journal," according to Goldstein. Over the course of a decade and while continuing his scientific research at UC Berkeley, Koshland turned the journal into the primary voice of science in the nation today and a major influence on public policy. During those years, he wrote some 200 editorials, many of them witty opinion pieces in the form of a colloquy with "Dr. Noitall," a name he coined as a dig at know-it-all scientists.

"By F. Scott Fitzgerald's dictum, 'There are no second acts in American lives,' Dan accomplished the impossible in his quest for elevating science to its highest level," Goldstein said. "He performed three acts in one lifetime, all of them class acts: the visionary biochemist, the tireless institution-builder, and the eloquent public communicator. It's indeed a sad day that the curtain has fallen."

Koshland recently turned his attention from the study of receptors and signal transduction to the emerging field of bioenergy, looking into the use of cyanobacteria to produce methane, a possible carbon-neutral alternative energy source. He filed for two patents based on his laboratory results.

"Unlike most scientists at his stage of career, he showed a striking willingess to switch directions and tackle new fields with creativity and originality," Tjian said.

Koshland was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and he served on the councils of both societies. He also served as president of the American Society of Biological Chemists.

He also was a Guggenheim Fellow and a visiting faculty fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University. He was a member of the American Philosophical Society, and was elected to honorary membership in the Japanese Biochemical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, and the American Medical Writers' Association. He received honorary degrees from the University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon University, Simon Fraser University and Mt. Sinai Medical University.

Following the death of his first wife, after 52 years of marriage, Daniel Koshland reconnected with Yvonne Cyr San Jule, whom he had first met in 1940 when they were UC Berkeley undergraduates enrolled in a bacteriology class. They married in August 2000.

Koshland is survived by his second wife, Yvonne Koshland, of Lafayette; sons, James Koshland of Atherton, Calif., and Douglas Koshland of Baltimore, Md.; daughters, Ellen Koshland of Melbourne, Australia, Phyllis (Phlyp) Koshland of Paris, France, and Gail Koshland of Tucson, Ariz.; and sisters, Frances K. Geballe of Woodside, Calif., and Phyllis K. Friedman of Hillsborough, Calif. He also is survived by nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, in addition to three step-children - Elodie Keene, Philip Keene and Tamsen Calhoon - 12 step-grandchildren and 17 step-great-grandchildren.

Koshland worked on campus with one of his daughters-in-law, Catherine Koshland, who is UC Berkeley's vice provost for academic planning and facilities.

A campuswide memorial is planned for 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 16, in Zellerbach Hall. Donations in Koshland's memory can be made to the Marian Koshland Science Museum, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Washington, D.C., 20001, or to the UC Berkeley Foundation to support bioscience and energy teaching and research. Write to the UC Berkeley Foundation, Attention: Vice Chancellor-University Relations, 2080 Addison Street, #4200, Berkeley, CA 94720-4200.