NEWS RELEASE, 11/10/99

Outspoken UC Berkeley biochemist and nutritionist Thomas H. Jukes has died at age 93

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs


Noted molecular biologist and nutritionist Thomas Hughes Jukes, a scientist who was not afraid to wade into controversial issues, including creationism and the banning of DDT, has died at the age of 93. He passed away at Alta Bates Medical Center in Berkeley on Nov. 1 after a bout with pneumonia.

Jukes, an emeritus research biochemist and former professor-in-residence at the University of California, Berkeley, made significant contributions in two distinct fields: nutritional science and molecular evolution.

While at Lederle Laboratories in New York, a division of American Cyanimid Co., he evolved the idea of giving antibiotics to animals so they could be raised in greater concentrations, and subsequently developed methotrexate as an important cancer therapy.

In 1963, as the DNA revolution dawned, he came to UC Berkeley as a research biochemist and dove into the field of molecular evolution and the origin of life.

"He and Jack King almost singlehandedly originated the concept of non-Darwinian evolution, or the neutral theory of evolution," said Kevin Padian, UC Berkeley professor of integrative biology. This was an idea put forward in 1968 and 1969 that some mutations in our genes have neither a positive nor a negative effect, and thus accumulate over time irrespective of natural selection.

For many years, Jukes wrote a column on evolution for the British journal Nature.

Never one to suffer fools, Jukes began to get involved in controversial issues at UC Berkeley, such as the fight to ban the use of the pesticide DDT in the early 1970s. He argued against banning the pesticide, noting that it had saved countless lives in poor countries as a cheap but effective way to kill malarial mosquitoes. Although a long-time member of the Sierra Club, he took on that organization and the American Audubon Society, which led the campaign against DDT.

"He was very feisty and didn't pull any punches," said Bruce N. Ames, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UC Berkeley. "He wasn't always right, but he was straightforward and made a lot of contributions. I'll miss him."

In the case of DDT, Jukes was vindicated, Ames said. That DDT damaged the egg shells of birds is still in dispute, and there is no documented damage to humans from the pesticide.

As an expert in nutrition, Jukes also publicly questioned quack cancer therapies such as Laetrile, argued that food additives and pesticide residues on fruits and vegetables are harmless, and that the antibiotics and other chemicals used in meat production - including the synthetic female sex hormone diethylstilbestrol, or DES, used to increase production of lean beef - are safe.

Beginning in the 1970s, he repeatedly spoke out against creationists who wanted to remove discussion of evolution from school textbooks. In the 1980s, he was instrumental in getting numerous California school textbooks rejected because of their inadequate discussion of evolution.

"He should be remembered as a crusader," Padian said. "He hated humbuggery, and would take on everyone from Linus Pauling and his claims that vitamin C is a cure-all, to homeopathic medicine and the creationists."

Jukes was born on Aug. 25, 1906, in Hastings, England, and emigrated to Canada in 1924. After receiving his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Toronto in 1933, he moved to California, where he had been drawn by the writings of Mark Twain and Bret Harte.

As a postdoctoral fellow, instructor and assistant professor at the University of California - at Berkeley from 1933 to 1934, and at Davis from 1934 to 1942 - he worked with Samuel Lepkovsky on the B vitamins then being discovered through research on poultry. Among his contributions were the important roles of riboflavin and vitamin B-12 in promoting the growth of chickens, and the first report that the B-vitamin niacin cured pellagra in humans. He also shared a stake in the isolation of pantothenic acid and proving its essential nutrient role in chicks.

In 1942, Jukes joined Lederle Laboratories, where he directed the section on nutrition and physiology research until 1959. He subsequently served as director of biochemistry at the agricultural division in New Jersey. His group discovered the commercially important growth-promoting effect of the antibiotic aureomycin for poultry, and isolated and synthesized the vitamin folic acid. During this period, he also did pioneering work in chemotherapy as a treatment for cancer, synthesizing folic acid antagonists, including methotrexate, that could be used in the chemotherapy of cancer.

After DNA was identified as the source of inheritance in the early 1960s, Jukes transferred his scientific interests to molecular biology and molecular evolution and returned to UC Berkeley as a professor in residence of medical physics. He remained active on the UC Berkeley faculty in biophysics and then integrative biology until his death. Jukes's bibliography contains over 550 publications from 1930 to the present, including three books: "B-vitamins for Blood Formation," "Antibiotics in Nutrition" and "Molecules in Evolution."

Among his awards were the Kenneth A. Spencer Award in agricultural chemistry (1976) and the Agriculture and Food Chemistry Award (1979) of the American Chemical Society; the Cain Memorial Award of the American Association for Cancer Research (1987); the Klaus Schwarz Commemorative Medal of the International Association of Bioinorganic Scientists (1988); and the Borden Award in Poultry Nutrition (1947). He was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Nutrition in 1973.

Jukes was an avid mountaineer, an ardent fan of Cal football, a member of the American Alpine Club, a life member of the Sierra Club, a member of Chit Chat Club and a member of Delta Tau Delta fraternity.

He is survived by his wife, Marguerite Jukes, of Berkeley; their daughter, Dorothy Mavis Jukes, and her husband, Robert Hudson, of Cotati, Calif; their daughter, Caroline Knueppel, and her husband, Nick, of Walnut Creek, Calif; and by his daughter-in-law, Sheila Sylvia, of Cape Cod, Mass. A son, Kenneth Hughes, died several years ago. Jukes also is survived by seven grandchildren.


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