Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Keith R. Porter: Where It All Began


(Kieth R. Porter second from left Harvard 1936, courtesy of KRP Foundation)

It has been over a year since I addressed my Colorado Life Science Entrepreneur Profile category (time sure does fly…) where I highlighted some of the contributions of Larry Gold. Feeling a bit nostalgic on this Independence Day not only am I reminded of our nations forefathers but our Colorado Life Science forefathers as well.

If you roll up George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Ben Franklin and James Madison into one you may get a feel for the contribution that Keith Roberts Porter (1912-1997) made not only to the University of Colorado by founding the department of molecular and cell biology (now MCDB) but to all of Cell Biology. Well, perhaps that is bit of a stretch but you get the idea.

Following receiving a Ph.D. in amphibian embryology from Harvard in 1938 and a post-doc position at Princeton, Dr. Porter then began his academic career at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University) before returning to Harvard where he eventually chaired the department of biology. In 1968 he founded and chaired the department of molecular and cell biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder and remained there until 1984 when he retired. Upon retiring the building that housed his laboratory was renamed Porter Biosciences (remaining true to the nostalgia theme today…and high on the fourth floor of Porter Biosciences in room 425 is where Dr. Michael W. Klymkowsky graciously taught me biology). Though Dr. Porter retired from CU he did continue his career at the University of Maryland and University of Pennsylvania.

Some of Dr. Porter’s contributions included:

Technical Achievements

  • Taking the first electron micrograph of an intact cell
  • The cell culture roller flask
  • The Porter-Blum ultramicrotome

Experimental & Observational Achievements

  • Studies on the synthesis and assembly of collagen
  • The role of coated vesicles in endocytosis
  • Lipid digestion in the intestines
  • Initial ultrastructure description of the endoplasmic reticulum & sarcoplasmic reticulum
  • The role of the cytoskeleton in cell transformation and shape change

Institutional Achievements

  • Journal of Cell Biology (founded as Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology)
  • American Society for Cell Biology
  • Electron Microscopy Society of America

Just to name a few.

Dr. Porter effectively established Colorado as a center of excellence for the study of cell biology and layed a sound foundation from which the Colorado Life Science biotechnology, pharmaceutical and medical device industries have grown and will continue to accelerate.

I intend to begin to examine other Colorado academic institutions beyond CU for life science pioneers and entrepreneurs. If there are certain persons or entities I should know of please contact me via email.

Visit the Keith R. Porter Endowment for Cell Biology for more information.


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