Tag Archives: Hans Van Etten

Remembering fungal genetics legends

The passing of two members of the fungal genetics community has saddened many of us but also brought smiles in remembering all the wonderful things they brought to the community. So sending this out to ask you to take some time to remember Rowland Davis  and Hans Van Etten who have passed away in the past month.

Rowland Davis, an eminent figure in the fungal genetics community, died on 18 July at his home in California. Rowland was 81 years old. He made many contributions to the community as a researcher, as an editor and reviewer, as a mentor, and as a valuable source of wise counsel, always delivered with intellect and humor. As a graduate student at Harvard University he developed an interest in microbial genetics and began to work with Neurospora. As a postdoc at Caltech with Herschel Mitchell he started his lifelong involvement in biochemical genetics. His early years as a Professor were at the University of Michigan (1960-1975). He subsequently moved to the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry at the University of California, Irvine and became Emeritus in 2005. Rowland’s graduate research focused on heterokaryosis. As a young assistant professor he began to investigate the pyrimidine biosynthetic pathway, discovering that the pyr-3 gene encoded two catalytic activities – one of the first examples of “one gene, two enzymes.” He then went on to show that carbamyl phosphate, required for two different metabolic pathways, was synthesized by the enzyme products two different genes, each in a different organelle. This was a foundational discovery in understanding the role of compartmentation in the regulation of metabolism. He pursued this with seminal studies of arginine metabolism, showing that 99% of cellular arginine is sequestered in vacuoles, thereby avoiding wasteful catabolism by enzymes in the cytosol. In the latter half of Rowland’s career, he investigated the enzymes responsible for synthesizing polyamines. His lab group identified the genes that encoded these enzymes, discovered novel mechanisms by which polyamine levels are controlled, and described the systems by which polyamines were transported across the cell membrane. Rowland was a key player in the decision to open the Neurospora Information Conference to the larger Fungal Genetics Community. He served this community in many ways. He was a supportive presence on NSF and NIH review panels and a long-term Editor for Genetics. He wrote the definitive “methods guide” for Neurospora (Davis and De Serres, Methods in Enzymology, 1970). The breadth of his knowledge is illustrated by his book, Neurospora, Contributions of a Model Organism (Oxford, 2000). In his retirement Rowland pursued his life-long interest in writing by publishing two novels (co-authored with his wife Margot [Norris] Davis) and a collection of short stories. Rowland was always available to help people. Young and not-so-young investigators went to him to discuss research ideas, grant proposals, and manuscripts. He was a superb teacher at all levels, delivering flawless lectures to huge undergraduate classes and providing hands-on instruction to graduate students. He will be greatly missed. — Barry Bowman, Neurospora Policy Committee

Hans Van Etten finished his career at University of Arizona and trained so many scientists and students. I have heard some great stories from student who took his classes, or where he sat on their committee, those who trained in his lab, or collaborated with him on research all remark on what a positive and enthusiastic person for the science and for the people he worked with.  A longer remembrance from those who can tell even better stories will be circulated soon I am sure but I wanted to just post something now to note his passing.