Memoir

Frank W. Putnam

Indiana University

August 3, 1917 - November 29, 2006


Election Year: 1976
Scientific Discipline: Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member

Frank W. Putnam was an esteemed member of the scientific generation that led the molecular biology and molecular medicine revolutions. His early research involved plasma substitutes, botulinum toxin, and serological assays for syphilis. And he was able to move from his original interests in the biophysical characterization of proteins, when even the general structure of proteins was still open to debate, to cutting-edge protein sequencing.

Putnam noted that he was fortunate to have participated in three intellectually stimulating collaborations: the Phage Group [1947–52], the Cambridge Protein Group at the time of the double-helix discovery [1952–53], and the Chain Gang (Piece Corps) [1965–1973]. The latter group was in the race to sequence the immunoglobulin proteins and fragments that brought Putnam his greatest recognition.

Putnam received his Ph.D. in 1942 from the University of Minnesota; his thesis dealt with protein electrophoresis. A postdoctoral position in the Department of Biochemistry at Duke University stimulated his interests in immunochemistry and in albumin, myeloma globulins, and the other plasma proteins—interests that would stay with him for the rest of his career. In 1947 he moved to the University of Chicago, for his first full-time faculty appointment as assistant professor, where his study of the physicochemical properties of bacteriophages led to his involvement with the Phage Group and isotopic studies of phage metabolism. In a 1952–53 appointment to Fred Sanger’s laboratory at the University of Cambridge, England, Putnam began his long-term studies of Bence-Jones proteins and learned how to manually sequence proteins, a technology he would adopt and further develop for the next 25 to 30 years.

In 1955, Putnam was recruited to the University of Florida College of Medicine (Gainesville) as founding chair of its Department of Biochemistry. Ten years later, he moved to Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington, where he was appointed professor of biology and director of the newly formed Division of Biological Sciences. In 1974, in recognition of his scientific accomplishments, administrative service, and teaching at IU, Putnam became Distinguished Professor of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry.

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