Dr. Arnold Demain
Research Fellow in Microbial Biochemistry
Research Institute for Scientists Emeriti (RISE), Drew University
Throughout my professional life, I have been devoted to the production of useful products by microorganisms. I began at the Merck penicillin factory in Danville, Pennsylvania, in 1954. It was there that I combined the practical teamwork of improving strains of penicillin-producing fungi with my basic research on the negative effect of lysine on penicillin production. Within a year, I was called up to the main Merck laboratories in Rahway, New Jersey, to bring basic research into the efforts there. I spent 14 more years at Merck. I continued my efforts studying the effects of primary metabolites (e.g., amino acids, vitamins etc.) on secondary metabolism (e.g., production of antibiotics). While at Merck, I founded the department of Fermentation Microbiology and continued to emphasize to the members of this department the importance of basic research in the improvement of secondary metabolism. When I was invited to join the faculty of M.I.T. in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I felt it was of importance to continue this type of effort, i.e., the “hybridization” of basic studies and industrial application. In 32 years at M.I.T., I did just that with my more than 100 undergraduates, graduate students, and visiting scientists from all over the world. Thus, we contributed in a major way to the areas of regulation of primary and secondary metabolism, mutational biosynthesis, and microbial production of products such as antibiotics, mycotoxins, cellulases, etc. My major M.I.T. research dealt with microbial production of cholesterol-lowering drugs, immunosuppressive drugs, a new process for making the important cephalosporin intermediate deacetoxycephalosporin C, vaccine production, and exploration of secondary metabolism in microgravity (in cooperation with NASA).
Upon my arrival at RISE, I have been able to continue the above concepts with Drew University undergraduate researchers, high school students and visiting scientists. Projects included (1) nutritional studies on production of antibacterial activity by the zebra mussel antagonist Pseudomonas fluorescens CL0145A, (2) antimicrobial activity of the antitumor agent cisplatin, and its analogs synthesized at Drew University by colleague Baldwin King, and (3) factors influencing antibiotic production by the actinomycetous bacterium Streptomyces platensis. As a result of these studies, five publications in internationally respected journal have been published which include the names of the students and visiting scientists as co-authors.