National Medal of Science winner and retired UC Berkeley professor
Horace A. Barker dies at 93
Robert Sanders, Media Relations
Horace Albert Barker
- Horace Albert Barker, one of the preeminent biochemists
of the mid-20th century and professor emeritus of biochemistry
at the University of California, Berkeley, died Dec. 24 at
his home in Berkeley after a brief illness. He was 93.
who had a research building named after him at UC Berkeley
in 1988, is best known for work in the late 1950s on the biochemical
function of vitamin B-12. This was regarded as a major advance
in understanding the complex chemical conversion processes
inside living organisms.
richly deserving of the Nobel Prize for his work on coenzyme
B-12," said biochemist Jack F. Kirsch, professor of molecular
and cell biology at UC Berkeley. "He was one of the finest
microbiologists who ever lived."
also was a member of the team that, in 1944, first discovered
the enzymatic steps living cells take when they synthesize
sucrose - common table sugar. This feat involved one of the
first uses of radioactive carbon-14 tracers, which Barker
in vitamin chemistry, bacterial metabolism, fatty acid oxidation
and synthesis, carbohydrate transformations and amino acid
and purine metabolism form a basic structure for much of our
current understanding of metabolism and its role in sickness
a true leader in biochemistry and a leader on campus, widely
respected internationally and by his Berkeley colleagues,"
said Daniel E. Koshland Jr., professor emeritus of biochemistry
at UC Berkeley. "He was very self-effacing, but was the real
core of the biochemistry department initially and as it developed
won numerous awards for his achievements, including the National
Medal of Science in 1968 and election to the National Academy
of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
fisherman and outdoorsman, he continued into his 90s to hike
and fish at his summer cabin near Mount Lassen.
was born in Oakland, Calif., on Nov. 29, 1907, and raised
in Palo Alto. He received his AB in physical sciences in 1929
and a PhD in chemistry in 1933 from Stanford University. After
two years as a National Research Council Fellow at the Hopkins
Marine Station in Monterey, Calif., and a year at the Technical
University of Delft, Holland, he came to UC Berkeley as an
instructor in soil microbiology in 1936. He was appointed
a full professor of soil microbiology in 1946, but switched
titles periodically until 1959, when he became a professor
in the new Department of Biochemistry in the College of Letters
the Department of Plant Nutrition from 1949-50, the Department
of Plant Biochemistry from 1950-1953, and the Department of
Biochemistry from 1962-1964. He retired as a professor emeritus
of biochemistry in 1975, although he remained active in the
department into his 80s.
his early career he studied the metabolism of ethyl alcohol
and acetic acid (vinegar) in bacteria, providing important
new information on the formation of fatty acids. Other bacterial
studies laid the foundation for our current understanding
of the role of folic acid, one of the B vitamins.
during work on a common soil bacterium, Clostridium tetanomorphum,
isolated from the mud of San Francisco Bay, that he and his
coworkers discovered in 1959 vitamin B-12 coenzyme - the active
form of vitamin B-12 that performs certain critical chemical
conversions in the body. He subsequently mapped out many of
the metabolic reactions involving vitamin B-12 coenzyme, clarifying
its role in building body tissue. This contributed greatly
to an understanding of several human diseases, including pernicious
anemia, caused by a deficiency of vitamin B-12.
awards he received during his career were the Sugar Research
Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1945, with Michael
Doudoroff and William Z. Hassid, his colleagues in the enzymatic
synthesis of sucrose; the Carl Neuberg Medal of the American
Society of European Chemists; the Borden Award in Nutrition
from the American Institute of Nutrition in 1962; the California
Scientist of the Year award from the California Museum of
Science and Industry in 1966; and the Gowland Hopkins Medal
of the London Biochemist Society in 1967.
elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1953, authored
or coauthored some 235 scholarly publications, and received
honorary doctorate degrees from Western Reserve University,
now part of Case Western Reserve University, and Munich University
He is survived
by two daughters, Barbara Friede of Piedmont, Calif., and
Betsy Mark of Lexington, Mass; a son, Bob Barker of Camino,
Calif.; and four grandchildren. His wife, Margaret (McDowell)
Barker, died in 1995.