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Definition of «Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.»

Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.

Anfinsen, Christian Boehmer, Jr.: (1916-1995) American biochemist who shared the 1972 Nobel Prize for work that helped explain the structure and composition of proteins in living cells.

Chris Anfinsen was born in Monessen, Pennsylvania, a small town south of Pittsburgh. His father and mother were Norwegian immigrants who taught their children the Norwegian language and heritage. After living for several years in the Pennsylvania town of Charleroi, the family moved to Philadelphia in the 1920s. In 1933, Anfinsen was admitted to Swarthmore College on a scholarship, where he studied chemistry and played football while working as a waiter in the dining hall. The 1937 edition of the Halcyon, the Swarthmore yearbook, described him this way: "With nostrils distended (denoting passion) [Anfinsen] strolls around campus under a mop of flaxen hair looking soulfully at the co-eds with big blue eyes." Reminiscing about his college years in 1964, Anfinsen noted humbly that "Everyone at Swarthmore was a genius except me."

After receiving his B.S. degree in chemistry in 1937, Anfinsen pursued graduate study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he worked toward a M.S. degree in organic chemistry in 1939 while serving as an assistant instructor. In 1939, the American Scandinavian Foundation awarded Anfinsen a fellowship to develop new methods for analyzing the chemical structure of complex proteins, namely enzymes, at the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark. The dangerous environment created in Europe after the outbreak of World War Two, however, made it necessary for him to return to the US in 1940. Alan Schechter, one of Anfinsen's postdoctoral students and later an NIH colleague, observed that Anfinsen "had the chance to see and understand the horrors then gripping Europe. His unusually deep and active sense of social responsibility certainly dated from that period, if not earlier."

In 1941, Anfinsen was offered a university fellowship for doctoral study in the Department of Biological Chemistry at Harvard Medical School. In November of that year, he married his first wife, Florence Bernice Kenenger, with whom he had three children. Anfinsen received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1943 after completing his dissertation, "Quantitative Histochemical Studies of the Retina," which also served as the basis of his first published article. Anfinsen taught courses in biological chemistry at Harvard until 1950.

In 1950, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, recruited Anfinsen as chief of its Laboratory of Cellular Physiology. In 1954, a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship enabled Anfinsen to return to the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen for a year with Kaj Linderstrøm-Lang, and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship allowed him to study at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, in 1958-59. In 1962, Anfinsen returned to Harvard Medical School as a visiting professor, and was promptly invited to become chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry. The NIH, however, wooed Anfinsen back to Bethesda. He was appointed Chief of the brand new Laboratory of Chemical Biology at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, where he remained until 1981. In 1972, Anfinsen was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on the basis of groundbreaking work in protein chemistry that he had conducted since the early 1950s. He shared the prize with Stanford Moore and William H. Stein, both at Rockefeller University.

Anfinsen focused considerable energies on a wide range of social and political issues including nuclear disarmament, environmental depredation, and human rights abuses committed against scientists in foreign nations. Aside from his many professional and scientific responsibilities, Anfinsen played viola and piano for relaxation. He was also an avid sailor and took regular excursions on his boat around the Chesapeake Bay and along the eastern seaboard from Boston to Miami. In 1995, Anfinsen suffered a heart attack and died in Randallstown, Maryland, less than a year before his 80th birthday.

Adapted from biographical information provided courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

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