Biochemistry celebrated its 50 anniversary with a highly successful symposium and gala dinner on Thursday July 10th 2014.
Participants were welcomed by current Head of Discipline Dr Michael Carty, who was himself both an undergraduate and PhD student in Biochemistry.
The symposium was opened by Prof Frank Gannon who gave his own personal journey from Sligo, and how NUI Galway had coloured his direction around the world to his current role as head of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane, Australia.
Following on was Prof Barry Murphy, the first postgraduate student in the department who subsequently went on to leadership roles in Queens College Belfast and Creighton University in Nebraska. He was able to explain how early interests in phycocyanin and phycoerythrin by Prof Colm O hEocha nucleated strengths in protein chemistry and affinity chromatography that underpinned the early history of Biochemistry.
Prof Rosemary O’Connor gave her travelogue from undergraduate days in NUIG to bioscience and biotech in USA and back to UCC. She gave a fascinating insight into the importance of insulin-like growth factor receptors in balancing the requirements and risks of cellular growth.
After coffee Prof Orla Conneely coloured the longstanding links between NUI Galway and Baylor College of Medicine, and the role played in cloning of nuclear receptors under the influence of Prof Bert O’Malley there. She gave both a passionate explanation of the value of mentorship and retaining connections, and a fascinating insight into how molecular screening platforms can be used to uncover potential therapies.
This was followed by Prof Oliver Dolly who gave another insightful story of an international career drawing on NUI Galway, but in his case focussed on how molecular understanding can enlighten neurological processes and uncover pharmacological agents. This has led him back to DCU where he is establishing advanced screening capabilities.
All this science had caused the symposium to lose track of time, so a belated lunch break was followed by Dr John Donlon who gave a unique and highly entertaining reflection of his own career and the personalities he knew during his undergraduate, postgraduate, lectureship and head of department roles in Biochemistry.
This was complemented by Prof Donald McDonnell who had taken the springboard of his undergraduate degree in NUI Galway with both hands to launch a career in USA focussing on the structure and function of nuclear receptors. This reflected again the opportunities and foundations of biochemical knowledge that NUI Galway has provided to so many biochemists.
Prof Michael ‘Joe’ Duffy perfectly illustrated the same appreciation of the opportunity he was given by explaining how his career starting as a trainee technician led to his determination to gain qualifications in Biochemistry, and the use of his expertise to establish an important clinical diagnostic assay.
Dr Richard Murphy of Alltech’s European Research Centre in Dunboyne also reflected a longstanding link with Biochemistry. Alltech has been linked with our department for many year both at the practical and academic levels. His interest in selenium biology also illustrated the multi-faceted directions that biochemical research can take, and how deeply discovery research underpins industrial applications.
The penultimate talk by Prof Noel Lowndes placed one of the current major research focuses in Biochemistry into perspective when he outlined efforts in chromatin research. Like many speakers before, this illustrated how the Department of Biochemistry has defied boundaries, in this case to combine traditional biochemistry with molecular and cellular biology in the understanding of cancer.
Finally, Biochemistry’s latest academic recruit and former BSc Biotechnology graduate Elaine Dunleavy related her personal journey following the cell biology and epigenetics of chromosome structure at the centromere.
In the evening a Gala Dinner was held at the Ardilaun Hotel, with a pre-dinner address by Prof Pat Fottrell paying tribute to many of the characters of Biochemistry.
After dinner, Dr Pat Morgan rounded out the anniversary celebrations with more stories of the many people during her career in Biochemistry.
Both addresses reflected the personal enthusiasm of members of the department that has underpinned Biochemistry throughout its 50 year journey.
It is clear that Biochemistry at NUI Galway enters its second 50 years with the same indefatigable confidence and energy that it has approached its first 50.