American Philosophical Society
Member History

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Resident (1)
2. Biological Sciences[X]
206. Physiology, Biophysics, and Pharmacology[X]
1Name:  Dr. Gregory A. Petsko
 Institution:  Harvard Medical School
 Year Elected:  2010
 Class:  2. Biological Sciences
 Subdivision:  206. Physiology, Biophysics, and Pharmacology
 Residency:  Resident
 Living? :   Living
 Birth Date:  1948
The research interests of Professor Petsko have always centered upon the structural basis of biochemical properties. His approach is to bring a chemical perspective to bear on problems in biochemistry, structural biology, cell biology, and human health. His primary research tools are: protein X-ray crystallography, molecular dynamics, site-directed mutagenesis and, more recently, yeast genetics. These tools are applied to diverse biochemical problems such as: the structural origins of enzyme catalytic power; the functional role of protein flexibility; the biochemistry and genetics of the quiescent state of the eukaryotic cell, using yeast as a model organism, and the causes and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease. Dr. Petsko graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton University in 1970, and received a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he completed his doctoral research in 1973 under the direction of Sir David C. Phillips. After a brief postdoctoral sojourn in Paris with Prof. Pierre Douzou, he was an Instructor and Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at Wayne State University School of Medicine from 1973 through 1978, where he twice received a Faculty Research Award. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology he served as an Associate Professor of Chemistry from 1978 through 1985 and Professor of Chemistry from 1985 through 1989. In 1990 he was appointed the Lucille P. Markey Professor in Biochemisty and Chemisty at Brandeis University. From 1994 to 2006 he served as the Director of the Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center, at Brandeis Unviersity; and in 1996 has held the title of Gyula and Katica Tauber Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacodynamics, succeeding Prof. William P. Jencks, the first holder of this chair. He served as Chair of the Biochemistry Department at Brandeis 2008 to 2011. In 2014 he accepted the position of Arthur J. Mahon Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York. Although directing a Center with 16 faculty and 200 staff occupied a considerable chunk of his time, Prof. Petsko always carried a full teaching load, and is proud of having taught freshman chemistry continuously, with only time off for sabbaticals, for almost 25 years. He also teaches critical thinking, protein crystallography, and the history of the detective story. His courses are consistently among the highest rated in the University. He has received numerous awards, including the Sidhu Award of the American Crystallographic Association for outstanding contributions to X-ray diffraction, the Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry of the American Chemical Society in 1986, and an Alexander von Humboldt Senior Scientist Award in 1989. In 1991 he was awarded the Max Planck Prize, which he shared with Professor Roger Goody of Heidelberg for their work on the origins of some human cancers. In 1995 he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and received a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2001 he was awarded the Lynen Medal (shared with Professor Janet Thornton), and was elected to the Institute of Medicine. In 2002, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 2004 he shared an award from the McKnight Endowment for Neuroscience with his Brandeis colleague, Professor Dagmar Ringe. He and Prof. Ringe also shared the Abram Sachar Medallion from the Brandeis University National Women's Committee in 2006. Prof. Petsko is the first man ever to receive this award, which he says means he at last may be getting in touch with his feminine side. Professor Petsko's research interests are the determination of protein three-dimensional structure and the relationship of that structure to biological function. Most of his work has been, and continues to be, done in collaboration with his friend and Brandeis colleague Prof. Dagmar Ringe. The tools he uses include X-ray crystallography, proteinengineering, yeast genetics and computational biophysics. He is currently focusing on several specific problems: enzymatic catalysis of hydrogen ion transfer, the role of metal ions in bridged bimetallic enzymes and the relationship of protein flexibility to protein function. In the Fall of 1995, his research activities expanded when he did a year's sabbatical work in yeast genetics in the laboratory of Professor Ira Herskowitz at UCSF. As a result, Prof. Petsko now has a budding yeast genetics program (pun intended), which is concerned with the biology of the quiescent state of the eukaryotic cell. In 2003, he and Prof. Ringe expanded the scope of their program yet again, this time in the direction of translational research aimed at curing human disease. They co-founded the new field of Structural Neurology, in which the tools of structure-based drug discovery are applied to find new treatments for Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Diseases, and Lewy Body Disease. To facilitate this work, they both accepted adjunct appointments as Professors of Neurology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital of Harvard Medical School. Dr. Petsko is a co-founder of ArQule, Inc. of Woburn Massachusetts, one of the world's leading companies in combinatorial chemistry, and serves on the boards of several other biotechnology companies, including Ironwood Pharmaceuticals and Amicus Therapeutics. He is a member of both the Scientific Review Board and the Medical Advisory Board of the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes. In 2007 he was elected President of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, which, at over 12,000 members, is one of the largest scientific societies in the United States. From 1988 through 2003 Dr. Petsko was Executive Editor for the journal Protein Engineering, which he co-founded. For the past ten years he has written a monthly opinion column in the journal Genome Biology that is widely read and reprinted. Dr. Petsko describes himself as overweight, out of shape and frequently grouchy, opinions that are not upheld by peer review. Besides his family, teaching and his work, he says there are only a few things that he really loves: dogs; hiking through deserts, mountains and rain forests; good writing, single-malt Scotch, and high-performance cars (he usually drives, however, a Jeep - something about Brandeis salaries). Though excited about his new research directions in yeast cell biology and neurodegenerative diseases, Dr. Petsko swears that his first love remains mechanistic enzymology. He also states that his greatest accomplishment is, and always will be, the more than 100 graduate students and postdocs that he has helped to train, a list that includes five Howard Hughes Investigators, two members of the National Academy of Sciences, and the second woman ever to head a Max-Planck Institute in Germany.
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