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Past Academy President Philip Siekevitz is Remembered

The cell biologist was Professor Emeritus at The Rockefeller University.

Published April 21, 2010

Philip Siekevitz, who served as President of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1976 and was Professor Emeritus at The Rockefeller University, died in December at age 91. Siekevitz was associated with a number of significant contributions in the field of cell biology. He joined the faculty of The Rockefeller University (then known as The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research) in 1954 as an assistant in cytology, and was appointed associate professor in 1959, and professor in 1966. In the Rockefeller laboratory of Keith Porter and George Palade he worked on the isolation and description of ribosomes, the major sites of protein synthesis in the cell, and of the endoplasmic reticulum, intracellular structures on which ribosomes reside.

Siekevitz's and Palade's research on pancreatic cells led to a greater understanding of protein synthesis and protein secretion. In addition, Siekevitz and Palade investigated the organization, function, and differentiation of several intracellular membranes in an effort to determine how the many membrane components function together as a unit, and how they are differentially formed.

Siekevitz's later work was devoted to the study of events occurring at the neural synapse on the level of intracellular structures. He and his colleagues determined which proteins, such as neurotransmitter receptors and ion channels, are attached to the PSD, and began to unravel interactions between the many protein components of the PSD.

In addition to his research, Siekevitz was an advocate of the social responsibilities of scientists. He believed that it is the duty of those engaged in basic research to inform the public about the potential risks involved. A founding member and treasurer of the New York Scientists Committee for Public Information, he wrote extensively on science and public policy, and his articles appeared in The Nation, The New York Times and Nature.