Noted vitamin researcher Esmond Snell, former biochemistry chair at UC Berkeley, has died at 89
Snell, who was 89, died of prostate cancer and congestive heart failure, according to his family. He died only six days after his wife of 62 years, Mary Terrill Snell, passed away on Dec. 3 at the age of 84.
Snell was a nutritional biochemist whose work on vitamins and the chemistry of their actions was recognized internationally. His research was considered by many to be on a par with that of other scientists who received Nobel Prizes in the 1930s and 1940s for their discovery of vitamins A, C, K, B2 (riboflavin) and biotin.
"He was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize, and should have received one" for his work on the coenzyme form of vitamin B6, called pyridoxal phosphate, said Jack Kirsch, professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry at UC Berkeley.
Lester Reed, a long-time friend and colleague and professor
emeritus of biochemistry at the
"Snell was a giant in biochemistry," concurred colleague Howard Schachman, professor of the graduate school in UC Berkeley's Department of Molecular and Cell Biology.
Especially noteworthy was Snell's development of microbiological assays employing lactic acid bacteria for the identification and isolation of factors essential for animal nutrition. Thanks to Snell and his colleagues, more than half of the known vitamins were discovered first through their action in bacteria.
With colleagues at the
In collaboration with other colleagues, he also discovered the B vitamin pantothenic acid and two of the three coenzyme forms of vitamin B6, pyridoxal and pyridoxamine. His work on pyridoxal in lactic acid bacteria, which he proved to be essential for the catalysis of the major reactions involved in amino acid transformations, elucidated the analogous enzymatic pathways involving pyridoxal phosphate in humans.
"Esmond was the godfather on the
biochemical side of vitamin B6, showing how B6 actually functions in a coenzyme
form to partner with enzymes to do certain catalytic reactions," said
Donald B. McCormick, a professor of biochemistry at
He met his wife, Mary Caroline Terrill, while teaching at the
Snell was invited to UC Berkeley in 1956 to chair the Department of Biochemistry upon its merger with the Department of Agricultural Biochemistry and served in that role for six years. Partly because of the university's retirement policy, he retired from UC Berkeley in 1976 and returned to UT Austin as professor of microbiology and chemistry and chaired the Department of Microbiology from 1976 to 1980.
He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the
In 1945, Snell received the Eli Lilly Award in Basic and Applied Research of the Society of American Bacteriologists, now the American Society of Microbiologists. Other awards include the Meade-Johnson Vitamin B Complex Award and the Osborne Mendel Award of the American Institute of Nutrition, and the William C. Rose Award of the American Society of Biological Chemists.
He served on many national and international committees and editorial and advisory boards. His editorship of Annual Review of Biochemistry lasted for 17 years.
Snell is survived by two sons, Richard Snell of Cumming, Ga., and Allan Snell of Boulder, Colo.; a daughter, Margaret Larkin, of Inverness, Calif.; a sister, Vesta Francis, of American Fork, Utah; and six grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by a sister and two brothers, as
well as by his wife and son, Esmond E. Snell, Jr.,
who was killed in action in