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Gerald N Wogan
Professor Emeritus in Biological Engineering and Chemistry
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What are your primary research interests?
Environmental and chemical carcinogenesis, molecular epidemiology, inflammation as a risk factor for chronic diseases including cancer
What was the toughest paper you ever had to write and why?
A lot of the specific research topics addressed by my group are at interfaces between fields, e.g., chemistry and molecular biology, or toxicology and epidemiology, so writing papers on these topics can be very challenging. They have to be written with the expectation that experts from both fields may read them, consequently great care has to be taken that inadvertent mistakes of omission or commission are not included in them. An example would be the paper reporting the first conclusive evidence that aflatoxin exposure is related to increased liver cancer risk, and that aflatoxin interacts synergistically with hepatitis B virus infection to magnify the risk. In this case, multiple disciplines were involved and the data had to be presented and interpreted in ways appropriate to all fields.
What is your favorite paper and why?
The paper reporting the structural characterization of aflatoxins B1 and G1 published in 1963 in collaboration with George Büchi. There was a friendly, but intense competition with a Dutch group to achieve the same objective, which we won by a matter of less than a month (we learned later). This required lots of intense work on the part of members of my group producing, isolating, and purifying adequate amounts of crystalline compounds for Büchi's group to use in structure elucidation. Many virtual all-nighters were put in by both groups to reach the objective. This led to a life-long friendship and many further collaborations with George Büchi.
Could you explain how/why you got interested in science and how/why
you chose your particular field within science?
My interest in science started early in high school, prompted by excellent teachers in both chemistry and biology. It further intensified during my undergraduate years, and I eventually pursued essentially a dual major in chemistry and biology, although my BS degree was in biology because I was persuaded by my mentor, who was a biologist, to take the comprehensive examinations in biology rather than chemistry. I was particularly fond of biochemistry, again because of an excellent teacher who guided me towards graduate school (rather than medical school, which was the objective of many of my contemporaries).
My choice of field, physiology, was again influenced heavily by professors who I greatly respected, both of whom had been trained as physiologists, (one in plant physiology, the other in animal physiology). Because physiology involves integrating chemistry and biology in understanding how animals and plants function, it seemed the ideal field for me. (In fact, in those days, the field of biochemistry was widely known as "physiological chemistry"). So, in graduate school, I continued to get trained in both fields, taking all of the available courses in physiology, including cellular, comparative, mammalian, biophysics, human anatomy, etc., as well as courses required for a first minor in biochemistry. My PhD thesis concerned water and electrolyte metabolism in men under conditions of heat stress.
This training gave me a very broad perspective and the flexibility to work on a wide range of topics, and led eventually to my becoming involved in toxicology/carcinogenesis.
What is/are your favorite book(s)?
David McCullough is perhaps my favorite writer, especially his biographies of Adams and Truman and his account of the events of 1776. I also enjoy James Michener's writings, in particular The Source, which I happened to read just after my first visit to Israel. Otherwise, my reading interests are pretty catholic.
What is/are your favorite movie(s)?
I am not an avid movie goer (much to my wife's chagrin), but I particularly enjoy old classic films (e.g., Casablanca, African Queen, etc.) or documentaries (e.g., March of the Penguins).
What is/are your favorite food(s)?
Asian foods of all sorts. A month spent in Singapore sampling the wares of "hawker stalls" is my idea of real food heaven.
What are your hobbies and/or interests outside of research?
Fly fishing, for all types of fish, but particularly for trout.
Do you have any special or unusual abilities?
Not that I am aware of.