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In Memoriam

Christopher T. Walsh, the internationally respected and unconventional enzymologist who revolutionized the study of antibiotics, including antibiotic resistance and the natural production by living organisms of molecules that can become new medicines, died on Jan. 10, at the age of 79, following a fall. His team’s elucidation of the pathway by which bacteria develop resistance to vancomycin, featuring five required genes, opened the door to developing new families of antibiotics that combat resistant bacterial strains. Among those who stand to benefit are cancer patients who contract life‐threatening infections during chemotherapy.  Other notable discoveries included identifying so-called suicide substrates that cause enzymes to self-destruct; revealing how key classes of molecules work and how their structures determine their functions; and gaining insights into siderophores — structures in bacteria that leach iron from hosts and offer a way to thwart infections by E. coli, Salmonella, and bacteria that cause tuberculosis, pneumonia, cholera, plague, and other illnesses.


Charles H. Williams, Jr, was born June 29, 1932 in Washington, D.C., the only child of Charles Haddon Williams and Kathryne Passailaigue Williams. He was raised in Washington and earned a B.S. from the University of Maryland and a PhD in Biochemistry from Duke University. While doing post-doctoral work in Sheffield, UK, he met his wife of 61 years, Angela Murison (Small) Williams. Together they settled in Ann Arbor, MI where Charles worked for the V.A. doing basic research as well as serving as a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Michigan. Charles was devoted to his work on enzymes that contain vitamin B2 and to Science in general. He studied enzymes containing versions of vitamin B2 that are involved with crucial functions in maintaining protein structure, providing reducing equivalents for the production of the bases in DNA, and for the function of mitochondria in cells. He collaborated with scientists from England, Germany, and Italy. 


Mirella Pilone was born August 29, 1942. Mirella earned a degree in Natural Sciences from the University of Milano in 1969 and started her research activity in Pathology later on. Mirella achieved the position of Full professor of Biochemistry since 1994 at the University of Insubria in Varese (Italy) where founded and directed the degree course in Biotechnology and the Department of Biotechnology and Life Sciences. Her scientific experience, grounded on the study of the structure and function relationships of flavo-oxidases, represented the stimulus to build a biotechnological reality based on the use of enzymes in the industrial and biomedical fields. She has been a scientific consultant for numerous companies and a reference for national and international biochemistry. We also like to remember her for her great interests, from travel to cooking.


Severino Ronchi was born on November 18, 1935 in Brembate di Sotto, near Milano. He entered the flavin world as a post-doc of Charles H. Williams, Jr, at the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor in the late ‘60s. Back to Italy, he was appointed professor of Biochemistry, first at the University of Pavia and later, from 1980 to 2010, at the University of Milan. Together with Giuliana Zanetti, Mirella Pilone and Bruno Curti, with whom he shared a life-long friendship, he established the flavinologist school in Milano. Together, they organized the Tenth International Symposium on Flavins and Flavoproteins in Como in 1990. Severino’s scientific interest was devoted to protein chemistry and the implementation of advanced methods for protein sequencing ranging from manual Edman degradation in the early times to nowadays mass spectrometry. In 1982, in a joint effort with Charles Williams’ and Vincent Massey’s labs, he solved the first primary structure of a flavin oxidase, namely pig kidney D-amino acid oxidase. With his collaborators at the Institute of Biochemistry of the Milano’ Veterinary School he contributed to projects on virtually all flavoenzymes being studied in the Milano area, such as D-amino acid oxidase, L-aspartate oxidase, ferredoxin:NADP reductase and glutamate synthase, to name a few. He had a pivotal role in promoting protein research, being a founding member of the PhD School in Biochemistry in Milano, serving in Academic boards and also as a member of the scientific board of the Italian Biochemical Society (Società Italiana di Biochimica). Severino was always generous with advice, rigorous in his judgement and respectful of others. Severino died on February 7, 2023 in his beloved villa in Griante, Lake Como.

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