UC Berkeley News


Daniel Koshland: 1920-2007
Biologist/editor/administrator/philanthropist was a visionary supporter of Berkeley's excellence

| 22 August 2007

Eminent biochemist Daniel E. Koshland Jr., a longtime professor of molecular and cell biology at Berkeley, former editor of the journal Science, and a tireless booster of the biological sciences on this campus, died July 23 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Walnut Creek following a massive stroke.

Koshland, a resident of Lafayette, was 87.

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

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

"I was very familiar with and admiring of Dan Koshland long before joining Berkeley because of his brilliant editorship of Science," said 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."

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 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 fundraising campaign that built two new buildings and renovated a third, placed 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.

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

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 Berkeley professor of molecular and cell biology who died in 1997. He also provided a major gift to endow the Marian Koshland Science Museum of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C.

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

Science, not blue jeans

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.

Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, Koshland Jr. enrolled at Berkeley and graduated in 1941 with a B.S. in chemistry. He immediately joined the Manhattan Project group working to isolate plutonium for an atomic bomb, following the group's leader, Glenn Seaborg, to the University of Chicago and eventually to Oak Ridge, Tenn. In Chicago, Koshland 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 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 Berkeley, he accepted the editorship of Science. Over the course of a decade, 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.

Koshland 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.

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 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 and Douglas Koshland of Baltimore; daughters Ellen Koshland of Melbourne, Australia, Phyllis (Phlyp) Koshland of Paris, France, and Gail Koshland of Tucson; and sisters Frances Geballe of Woodside and Phyllis Friedman of Hillsborough. He also is survived by nine grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, in addition to three stepchildren, 12 step-grandchildren, and 17 step-great-grandchildren.

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

A campus memorial service is planned for Sunday, Sept. 16, at 4 p.m. in Zellerbach Hall; it will be preceded by an academic symposium, "Induced Fit: The Science and Wit of Daniel E. Koshland Jr.," to be held from noon to 3 p.m. in Stanley Hall. Details will be published prior to the event; meanwhile, those planning to attend the symposium and service are asked to register online at https://ucberkeleyevents.wufoo.com/forms/celebration-of-the-life-of-daniel-e-koshland-jr/.

Donations in Koshland's memory can be made to the Marian Koshland Science Museum, 500 Fifth Street, N.W., 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 St. #4200, Berkeley, CA 94720-4200.