Christopher T. Walsh, a highly influential professor of chemical biology and former MIT faculty member and chair of the Department of Chemistry, He died on January 10 at the age of 79.
At the time of his death, Walsh was the Hamilton Cohn Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Emeritus, at Harvard Medical School, but began his career in 1972 as a faculty member jointly appointed to the MIT Departments of Chemistry and Biology. Walsh would go on to spend 15 years at MIT, serving as chair of the chemistry department from 1982 to 1987.
“Chris T. Walsh was a giant in the field of chemical biology, making groundbreaking contributions to antibiotic resistance, enzyme reaction mechanisms, and natural product biosynthesis,” says Prof. Troy Van Voorhees, current chair of the MIT Department of Chemistry. “He was a leader at MIT during his college years here, and a cherished member of the chemistry community in the greater Boston area. He will certainly be missed.”
Born in Boston, his academic career began at the Roxbury Latin School, which led him to earn his undergraduate degree from Harvard University and his Ph.D. from Rockefeller University. He completed postdoctoral research at Brandeis University before starting his independent research, which focused on enzymes and enzyme inhibitors, with specialization in antibiotics and biosynthesis of other biologically and medically active natural products, at MIT as a joint faculty member in the Departments of Chemistry and Biology.
Professor of Chemistry and Biology Catherine Drennan She would need “book space” to adequately describe what Walsh meant to her as a collaborator, mentor, and friend. “We had many great conversations about science, often in front of a graphic computer looking at a new crystal structure with our students gathered around us,” Drennan recalls. “In addition to the professional mentoring that began early in my career and went past the end of our formal scientific collaboration, he was a friend. I will never forget sitting at Au Bon Pain at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, having just received news of my mother’s terminal cancer, when my phone rang “It was Chris. He had heard about my mother’s diagnosis and wanted to see if he could do anything. Whoever said ‘Never meet your heroes’ hasn’t met Chris Walsh.”
in 2010 A reflection of his career published in Journal of Biological ChemistryWalsh described his research as “a tripartite intersection of biology, chemistry, and medicine.” His leadership, expertise, and extraordinary contributions to his field will earn him memberships in the National Academy of Sciences, the US Academy of Sciences, the US National Academy of Medicine, and the American Philosophical Society, and he will achieve a number of prestigious awards and prizes, including the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry, the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award, and the Welch Award, which he shared with longtime friend and collaborator, Novartis Professor Emerita Joan Staub.
“Since the early 1970s, it has been a pleasure to interact with and be inspired by this talented scientist,” says Staub. “I loved that he shared challenges with me and his amazing ability to identify and reveal so many unexpected chemical shifts. Enterobactin biosynthetic enzymes phosphopantetheinylated! Really! I would, so I miss it.” [Walsh]. “
Walsh has authored more than 800 articles and 10 books, the first of which, “Mechanisms of Enzymatic Reaction”, is carried by Walsh’s Teaching 5.50, a graduate course of the same name on the chemical mechanisms of biological transformations. Published in 1979, Walsh’s seventh year as a faculty member at MIT, the book holds to be a timeless text in the field. “‘Enzymatic reaction mechanisms’ were the first to apply the rigorous logic of chemistry to metabolic reactions,” says Roger and George Firmenich, Professor of Natural Products Chemistry. Ronald T Raines. “This amazing thinking drew me as an undergraduate at MIT (along with hundreds of others!) to work with them [Walsh] Exploration and exploitation of enzymes. I have innumerable memories of his hilarious humor and am grateful for his inspiration as an intelligent and prolific scientist, as well as for his lifelong guidance.”
Walsh’s incomparable influence on the field of chemical biology is only surpassed by his invaluable dedication to his students and trainees, including Associate Department Chair and Evan R. Elizabeth M Nolan, who did her postdoctoral research in Walsh’s lab at Harvard Medical School. “Chris was a scientist, educator, educator, and an extraordinary person,” says Nolan. “His mind, wisdom, and ability to see the big picture was remarkable, and he was an invaluable source of guidance. His many contributions to chemistry, biology, and beyond are incalculable. He will be sorely missed.”
Walsh is survived by his wife, Diana Chapman Walsh, Life Member Emeritus of MIT and President Emeritus of Wellesley College. his daughter Allison Kurian, professor of oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine; and his beloved grandson, Sean.