Testimonials for Pioneer Member Edward Tolbert

Robert Donaldson – Ed Tolbert was a great mentor to all of us in his laboratory at Michigan State University during the 1960’s. His office was right in the lab and it seemed he was always available. He created an atmosphere of gentle passion for enzymes and biochemistry, which has followed me all my days. He often spoke of the risks of the increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2; how prescient!

John Hess – As an anxious young graduate student from eastern Pennsylvania, I arrived at Michigan State University, on a summer weekend in 1963. Classes were not in session; I was disarmed by the emptiness. Remarkably (with no cell phones), Ed Tolbert met me and helped me get settled. Discovery, repeated experiments, affirmation, and disappointment inspired my independence with Ed’s support. Ed chaired the committee overseeing the remarkable building that would house the Department of Biochemistry. His leadership in this venture and the move into the building revealed Ed’s commitment and tenacity to details, teaching me to listen and to work intentionally. During my tenure, Ed took a sabbatical in Freiburg, Germany. He confidently expected me to guide operations in the lab, with the support of my colleagues. We were exploring the accumulation of glycolic acid, and its subsequent metabolism, as an early product of photosynthesis in algae using the high, 2% concentration of CO2, a standard protocol at the time. Years later, this visualization of the metabolites of photosynthesis by two-dimensional chromatography, as perfected in the Calvin/Benson laboratory, is appreciated as fundamental to metabolomics. The dual catalytic roles for RuBisCO were just about to be unraveled in the laboratory as competition between CO2 and O2 became apparent. I am grateful for Ed’s encouragement to explore the wonders of plant biochemistry and his colleagues who advanced our understanding of how light and plants transform the atmosphere into biomass with infinite diversity.

Diane and David Husic – Ed was a tremendous mentor in a wide range of ways, from nudging introverted graduate students to network, to his modeling of the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to scientific research, to his patience and humor. He involved his students in international conferences and connected us to writing opportunities that built our skillsets for the future.

Edward B. Nelson – As a young graduate student entering Michigan State in 1965, I had the good fortune to be introduced to Dr. Tolbert and to be accepted into his laboratory. What an exciting worthwhile experience those years were. He directed a diverse group of students, post docs and visiting faculty who made learning and working there a privilege. He was generous with advice and praise. At that time I had the good fortune of discovering the ” missing” glycolate oxidase in algae, which turned out to be a dehydrogenase with activity related to available carbon dioxide levels. We also saw a similar carbon dioxide effect on carbonic anhydrase levels. Dr. Tolbert recognized these findings in the broad picture of plant biology which led to his numerous contributions in this area.