Department of Biochemistry Centenary
May 28, 2008
Good afternoon faculty, staff, students and friends of biochemistry, from our affiliated hospitals and from the larger university community.
It is a great honour and pleasure to help kick-off the Department of Biochemistry’s one-hundredth birthday …
Chemists generally think that everything in the natural sciences is ultimately about inorganic chemistry, but in recent years we’ve seen more and more chemists becoming chemical biologists.
Over the past ten years, half of the Nobel prizes in chemistry were awarded to biochemists and chemical biologists.
There is also a growing dependence among all disciplines in the health sciences on the work of those investigating at the molecular and atomic levels.
All these factors illustrate the trend towards an increasing recognition of biochemistry as the fundamental discipline upon which so many others depend.
Of course, those in the audience this afternoon could have pointed this out long ago and, one might argue, there were those working at the University of Toronto as much as a century ago with the vision to see biochemistry as the unifying discipline that it is.
This Department at the University of Toronto has made huge contributions to the evolution and development of biochemical science over its one-hundred year history, and today is one of the largest and most important biochemistry departments in the world.
Both on campus and to the Department, through faculty appointments to our partner hospitals, the Department of Biochemistry remains very active in carrying out the scholarly research and educational missions of the University of Toronto …
The Department has also produced a plethora of leaders in biochemical science, ever since Archibald Byron Macallum was appointed the first head of the Department.
A few of the many highlights over the past century include:
- Clara Cynthia Benson, in 1907, becoming a cross-appointed professor, one of the first two women to hold professorial rank at the University of Toronto.
- James Collip obtaining his PhD in biochemistry working alongside Macallum and in 1921 working on insulin preparation with Banting, Best and Macleod and later discovering the parathyroid hormone.
- In 1948 Jeanne Manery Fisher became the first woman full professor at UofT, and the Canadian Biochemical Society later established an award in her honour.
- Oliver Smithies, Gordon Dixon and George Connell – later Chair of the Department, and President of the University – in 1962 developed starch gel electrophoresis to separate proteins.
- Fraser Mustard and Marian Packham, in 1980, publish a “citation classic” on platelet aggregation.
I can’t even begin to talk about the last quarter-century, for fear of leaving out the tremendous accomplishments of so many present today …
With its world-recognized faculty members and vast research portfolio, the Department now has remarkable influence within this city and across Canada.
But the audience here today will know far better than I how accomplished this Department is, and how much knowledge it has contributed to the biochemical research base over the years.
2008 marks not only the centenary of biochemistry at the University of Toronto, but also follows the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Forestry, Dentistry, and of Convocation Hall. Clearly one hundred years ago this University was as exciting as it is today.
All these milestones also happen to coincide at a time when we are trying to define the direction of our university for the long-term future.
Although Professor Archibald Macallum – who, in 2006, Parks Canada declared the “Father of Canadian Biochemistry” – could not imagine the legacy he was creating when he founded the department in 1908, we are doing our best to plan for the next couple of decades and, if we are successful, will be laying the foundation for another successful century at the University of Toronto.
Thank you all for your ongoing commitment to research and above all thank you for the work you perform daily at what is one of the most important of scientific disciplines.
Here’s to another 100 years of success, and to your Department’s continued leadership in research and education …
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