Link: University of Iowa

Clarence Berg’s history of Iowa Biochemistry now online

Thanks to an agreement between Google and The University of Iowa, the late Clarence Peter Berg’s 1980 out of print monograph, The University of Iowa and Biochemistry from their Beginnings, is now available online. Here we highlight some key points, especially the development of Biochemistry within the University and the College of Medicine, the great fire of 1953, and the headships of Henry Bull, Carl Vestling and Edward Heath. This book is a treasure trove of Departmental history and is a unique view into the development of the discipline of biochemistry in Iowa City.

Berg documents the first two PhDs in Biochemistry as having been awarded to Thorsten Ingvaldsen (“Concerning the Chemistry of Carnosine and Creatinine”) in 1918 and to Harry Hines (“Creatine Metabolism”) in 1922. Hines was a faculty member at Iowa from 1922 to 1961, serving as Head of Physiology from 1944 to 1961.

Biochemistry was formally created as a division of the Department of Chemistry in 1924 with appointment of Victor Myers as Professor and Head of the Biochemistry division of Chemistry. With Myers’ departure in 1927 and his succession by Henry Matill, Biochemistry’s prehistory began to evolve into Departmental history. This was the year of the Rockefeller Foundation’s $2.25 million gift to the University of Iowa to build the gothic-styled General Hospital. Matill served as Head of the Biochemistry division from 1927 to 1948 and as the first Head of the Biochemistry Department in the College of Medicine in 1948 until his transition to Emeritus status in 1952. Beyond organization of Biochemistry as a College of Medicine Department, highlights of the Matill era included hiring of Clarence Berg and George Kalnitsky.

The second Head of Biochemistry, Henry Bull, who had been recruited from Northwestern University, served as Head from 1953 to 1963. Key hires during the Bull era were Reinhold Benesch, Robert Dryer, Rex Montgomery and Charles Swenson. The other major development was the great fire of 1953 in the Chemistry Building and the physical migration of the Department to new College of Medicine space in 1957. Berg documented 32 PhDs granted in the Bull era including those of Marian “Dave” Francis (1953 with Theodore Winnick) and Yuan-Chuan Lee (1962 with Rex Montgomery), both of whom have been honored as Distinguished Alumni of the Carver College of Medicine. Dave Francis is responsible for work on fluoride as a cavity-fighting agent and went on to develop Crest toothpaste for Proctor and Gamble. Yuan-Chuan Lee is a pioneer in glycobiology at Johns Hopkins.

The third Head of Biochemistry, Carl Vestling, who had been recruited from University of Illinois, served as Head from 1963-1976. Two of Vestling’s hires, Robert Barker and Harry Hogenkamp, later became department Heads at Michigan State and Minnesota, respectively. Other Vestling era hires included Earle Stellwagen, Thomas Conway, Roger Chalkley, Arthur Spector, Bryce Plapp, Arthur Arnone, John Donelson, Larry Solomonson, and, as a joint appointee, Daryl Granner. Solomonson later assumed leadership positions at South Florida, whereas Chalkley and Granner assumed leadership positions at Vanderbilt. John Donelson would become the eighth Head of Biochemistry at Iowa. The other highlight of the Vestling era was the construction of the Bowen Science Building, with nearly 40,000 net square feet of space for Biochemistry. Vestling era PhDs included Alap Subramanian (1964 with Kalnitsky), Horace Loh (1965 with Berg), Billy Hudson (1966 with Barker), Kenneth Mann (1967 with Vestling), Francis Castellino (1968 with Barker), and Julio Celis (1968 with Conway), among many others. These individuals went on to take leadership positions at the Max-Planck, UCSF, Vanderbilt, Vermont, Notre Dame and the Danish Center for Human Genome Research, respectively. Among the many awards won by these Iowa graduates, Loh and Hudson were recognized as Distinguished Alumni of the Carver College of Medicine.

The fourth Head of Biochemistry, Edward Heath, served as Head from 1976-1984. Heath had risen through the ranks at Michigan and Johns Hopkins before serving as Chair of Biochemistry at Pittsburgh and coming to Iowa as Department Head. Heath’s early appointments included Peter Rubenstein and Joseph Walder, who later transitioned to industry and started the oligonucleotide company, IDT. Though most of the PhDs from the Heath era finished their dissertations too late for Berg to document their successes at Iowa and elsewhere, some notable Heath era PhDs were Charles Shoemaker (1979 with Chalkley), now at Tufts; Gary Firestone (1980 with Heath), now at Berkeley; Linda Sealy (1980 with Chalkley), now at Vanderbilt; and Bradley Hyman (1982 with Spector), now at the Massachusetts General Hospital. Hyman has been recognized as a Distinguished Alumnus of the Carver College of Medicine.

Departmental history in the Charles Swenson era (1985-1987), the Alan Goodridge era (1987-1996), the Arthur Spector era (1996-1998), the John Donelson era (1998-2008) and the Madeline Shea era (2008-2009) will be covered in a future blog post.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.