Article published in August 2012.

 

Álvaro Martínez del Pozo
Dpto. de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular I, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
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Jane S. Richardson represents a paradigmatic example of how unique can be a scientific carrier. She graduated in philosophy, accompanied her husband as a technician, and never got a Ph. D. degree. However, she has made seminal contributions to the field of protein structure and has accomplished the highest scientific ranks, such as the membership of the U.S.A. National Academy of Sciences and the presidency of the Biophysical Society. The way we understand and represent protein structures today was essentially developed by her. 

 

Jane showed her scientific ability at a very early age. Still a teenager, she ranked third at the prestigious Westinghouse Science Talent Search, a national contest where she calculated the orbit of Sputnik from observations on two successive nights. This interest in astronomy led her to Swarthmore College, although she finally ended up graduating in philosophy, with a minor in physics, in 1962. That same year she married David C. Richardson, who decided to pursue a doctorate in chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Jane followed him, and obtained master's degrees in both philosophy and teaching from Harvard University in 1966.
Jane did not feel herself suited for teaching and then decided to join her husband laboratory at MIT as a crystallographic technician, starting a long-lived collaboration which still endures. After 7 years of work, in 1969 they published the 10th protein structure, corresponding to the Staphylococcal nuclease.
In 1970 David was offered a Faculty position at Duke University which held a policy against hiring married couples in the same department. Jane managed to hold several different positions continuing with their collaboration. In many regards, she was indeed the scientist leading the team. By 1974 they had solved the high resolution structure of another protein, a bovine superoxide dismutase. According to her ever increasing role within their scientific couple, by 1977 Jane published a milestone article where she reviewed the β-sheet topology and led to the definition of the Greek key β-barrel fold. Jane also created the ribbon drawings we all still use today to represent protein structures. In 1990, altogether with David, they pioneered molecular graphics for personal computers and developed methods to measure goodness of fit inside proteins and its interactions with molecules.
Jane and David have continued making breakthrough contributions that cannot be treated in this article. They have pursued the development of new methods and software to quantify and visualize molecular interactions and design new therapeutic drugs. Lately, they have expanded their macromolecules landscape by successfully incorporating RNA within their repertoire.
Maybe the best definition of Jane was given by S.H. White in 1992: "Jane is a philosopher, a scientist, and (although she claims otherwise) an artist. Who can forget her now famous 1977 paper in Nature in which β-sheet structural motifs were described in terms of patterns painted on Grecian urns? She could see a motif common to complex protein structures and to the Greek key design. In seeing such connections, she helps us to recognize the great beauty inherent in science and establishes a common ground between science and human aesthetics". Jane never got a doctoral degree but she holds three honorary doctorates and has risen to the Olympus of protein chemistry and structure.
  

janerichardson

 Jane S. Richardson

 

REFERENCES

1. N. Kresge et al. (2011) J. Biol. Chem. 286:e3.
2. J.S. Richardson (1977) Nature 268:495.
3. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_S._Richardson).
4. (http://www.chemheritage.org/discover/chemistry-in-history/themes/biomolecules/proteins-and-sugars/richardson.aspx).
5. Richardson Laboratory at Duke University (http://kinemage.biochem.duke.edu/lab/Richardson/richardson.php).
6. S.H. White (1992) Biophys. J. 63:1185.

 

 

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