An online global symposium celebrating “The Life and Legacy of Wittko Francke,” a renowned organic chemist based at the University of Hamburg, Germany--and a frequent collaborator with several UC Davis scientists--brought out his humanity.
Professor Francke died Dec. 27, 2020 at age 80 of complications from COVID-19.
The 29 speakers praised him as a brilliant and pioneering scientist, a dedicated teacher and researcher, a kind and loyal friend, a connoisseur of good wine and good food, and a generous—and sometimes anonymous—humanitarian. They also lauded his mentoring, congeniality, sense of humor, “keen olfactory system” and his Ping Pong skills.
“Wittko was one of the great pioneers shaping chemical ecology and the International Society of Chemical Ecology (ISCE),” said Leal, a member of the UC Davis Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology faculty and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology. Francke served as ISCE president in 1989-90, and Leal in 2000-01.
Panelist and former ISCE president John Hildebrand of the University of Arizona said: “Every encounter with Wittko was unforgettable.”
Former student Jan Bergmann of the Pontifica Universidad Católica de Valparaíso, Chile, a past president of the Latin American Association of Chemical Ecology, said the scientific community lost “a very productive and passionate researcher, a great colleague, mentor and friend.”
Toward the end of the symposium, Wittko's two sons, Christian and Michael offered their remembrances. Christian disclosed that Daaks-Chemicals, a key sponsor at an ISCE annual meeting, was “a fake” business meant to disguise the real donor--his father.
Leal then announced a fundraising project for the International Society of Chemical Ecology: “The Wittko Francke's Daaks-Chemical Fund."
Leal related this week that "There was enormous support. ISCE has now received more than $23,000. In honor of Wittko, ISCE will be establishing the annual Wittko Francke's Daaks-Chemicals Memorial Lecture."
It was Seybold who introduced Francke when he was a guest speaker at a UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar on Dec. 8, 2010. Images of them, along with Leal, postdoctoral scholar Zain Syed, and doctoral student Leslie Saul-Gershenz, opened the April 3rd symposium.
Among the speakers was UC Berkeley professor Dave Wood, now 90, who was Seybold's major professor.
The event concluded with chemical ecology icon Wendell Roelofs, emeritus professor of Cornell University, and his wife, Joanne, offering a toast to the late chemical ecology giant who cherished good science, good friends and good wine.
The symposium drew widespread praise.
“I received more than 40 emails from people I know very well and others I never had the pleasure to meet; they shared their thoughts about the celebration,” Leal related. “Perhaps, one comment captures the sentiment of all: ‘Contributions to chemical ecology like Wittko's are at the center of why our field is so rewarding.'”
One email was from a professor from Japan, Shigeru Matsuyama, who collaborated with Seybold. “He wrote me that he was surprised that Steve Seybold had passed,” Leal said. “He had visited Seybold and his family in Davis and mentioned he “had a wonderful time, seeing his laboratory, walking around Davis Farmers Market, and enjoying food at Guadalajara.”
Born Nov. 28, 1940 and raised in Reinbek, near Hamburg, Germany, Francke studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg, obtaining his doctorate there in 1973. His thesis: "The Aggregation Pheromone of the Bark Beetle, Xyloterus domesticus. He was appointed professor of the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the University of Hamburg in 1985 and had served there until after his retirement.
A colleague once called him "The Mozart of Molecules," which Jan Bergmann noted, "summarizes eloquently the admiration of many had for his work, which is documented in more than 450 scientific publications." Among Francke's many global honors: the 1995 ISCE Silver Medal.
Former Francke student Stefan Schulz, a professor at the Institute of Organic Chemistry, Germany, an ISCE past president, wrote on the symposium's registration page: "Even in his early years, he showed some characteristics many associates with him, such as energy, determination, imagination, and creativity. Despite several offers, he stayed his whole academic career at the University of Hamburg, where he finally became a Full Professor and served different functions, including Dean of Chemistry. He always liked to teach, which he did happily even in his later years."
Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology tweeted Dec. 29, 2020: "Wittko Francke's death is a severe loss for the field of Chemical Ecology. He was not only a great chemist, but he also had a large influence on the development of our institute being a key member of the advisory committee that set up our institute."
France was not only an "outstanding, hard-working scientist" but a "loving husband, father of two children and grandfather of four grandchildren," Bergmann wrote. "He was also a person with incredible kindness and generosity....He enjoyed bringing people together and deeply cared about his students, many of which stayed in touch with him long after they left his research group. His legacy will live on in those of us he has inspired and guided in so many ways."
Of the more than 30 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States, 547,000 people have died. They are not numbers: they represent family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors and acquaintances who have succumbed to this tragic disease.
And today Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of another surge. Our nation, she says, shows a seven-day average of about 57,000 new COVID-19 cases per day, a 7 percent increase over the last week.
A burning question: Why do some COVID-19 patients recover and some don't?
The laboratory of UC Davis distinguished professor Bruce Hammock, who holds joint appointments with the Department of Entomology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, may have just pinpointed why.
The team of eight UC researchers, primarily from the Hammock lab, found that four compounds in the blood of COVID-19 patients are highly associated with the disease. Their paper, “Plasma Linoleate Diols Are Potential Biomarkers for Severe COVID-19 Infections,” is published as open access in the current edition of Frontiers in Physiology.
ARDS, characterized by fluid build-up in the lungs, is the second leading cause of death in COVID-19 patients, next to viral pneumonia, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“Different outcomes from COVID-19 infections are both terrifying from a human health perspective and fascinating from a research perspective,” said UC Davis lead author and doctoral candidate Cindy McReynolds of the Hammock lab. “Our data provide an important clue to help determine what impacts the severity of COVID-19 outcomes. Initially, we focused on the immune response and cytokine profile as important drivers in severity, but considering what we now know from our study and others in the field, lipid mediators may be the missing link to answering questions such as why some people are asymptomatic while others die, or why some disease resolves quickly while others suffer from long-haul COVID.”
“The hypothesis advanced in this paper is that because the leukotoxins have been associated with serious illness and death in humans and dogs and the symptoms are those of adult respiratory distress syndrome, these compounds are biomarkers of pulmonary involvement in COVID-19,” Hammock said. “We also think that it is the conversion of leukotoxin to the toxic leukotoxin diol that causes pulmonary and perivascular edema and this could be leading to the respiratory complications.”
“So the leukotoxins and leukotoxin diols,” Hammock said, “are indicators of respiratory problems in COVID-19 patients as plasma biomarkers. They also present a pathway for reducing ARDS in COVID-19 if we could inhibit the soluble epoxide hydrolase, a key regulatory enzyme involved in the metabolism of immune resolving fatty acids.”
The UC Davis scientists used clinical data collected from six patients with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection and admitted to the UC Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, and 44 healthy samples carefully chosen from the healthy control arm of a recently completed clinical study.
The Hammock lab's 50-year research on soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) and its inhibitors led the professor to found and direct EicOsis Human Health, a Davis-based company that is developing a potent soluble epoxide hydrolase inhibitor for pain relief. Epoxy fatty acids control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain, inflammation and other processes.
But more recently, the Hammock lab has turned its attention to using sEH as a means to resolve inflammation associated with COVID-19 and the fibrosis that can follow.
The paper is the work of Hammock, McReynolds and Jun Yang (corresponding author) of the Department of Entomology and Nematology and EicOsis Human Health; Irene Cortes-Puch of the Department of Entomology and Nematology, EicOsis Human Health, and the Department of Internal Medicine's Division of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine; Resmi Ravindran and Imran Khan of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine; Bruce G. Hammock of UC Davis Department of Veterinary Medicine, Aquatic Health; and Pei-an Betty Shih of the UC San Diego Department of Psychiatry.
See the news story on the Department of Entomology and Nematology website at https://bit.ly/3lSWbwf
A seven-member team from UC Davis will challenge a seven-member team from Cardiff on questions related to biochemistry and COVID-19. The public is invited register for the Zoom event at https://tinyurl.com/dmnftsuj
UC Davis Chancellor Gary May will deliver the welcoming address.
“We will focus on a theme of protein structures, emphasizing two proteins of public interest--specifically, hemoglobin, the carrier of oxygen from the lungs to the tissues,” said organizer-moderator Walter Leal, UC Davis distinguished professor of molecular and cellular biology and a former chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
“As I said in class, this protein makes FedEx envious. It carries oxygen from the lungs to the muscles and other cells, drops the load at the destinations, and picks up carbon dioxide and protons to take back to the lungs. It is a multitasking protein. It is never idle unless a person gets COVID-19.”
The March 10th event will actually include three games. Prior to The Big Game will be two preliminary games that will determine the composition of the seven-member UC Davis team that challenges Cardiff.
Ironic Bonds: Catherine Rodriguez, Kelly Brandt, Jiaying Liu, Aly Lodigiani, and Efrain Vasquez Santos
Gibbs Team: Kathryn Vallejo, Yasamin (Yasi) Parsa, Tina Luu, Brandon Matsumoto, and Esha Urs
Game 2 will pit the two champion teams that played off-tube or off-camera.
Alpha Helices: Mary Aina, Daniel Colon, Eva Pak, Stephanie Matsumoto, and Joseph Morrison.
Beta Strand: Shiwani KC, Brycen Carter, Beatrice Ark-Majiyagbe, Samantha Levy, and Erica Arsaga.
The Big Game: “For the UC Davis team that will challenge Cardiff, we will have five players from the winner of Game 1, plus one player from Alpha Helices and one player from Beta Strand,” Leal explained.
While the teams work on the questions, Dr. Dean Blumberg, an epidemiologist and chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, UC Davis Children's Hospital, will answer questions about vaccines and vaccinations.
The Eric Conn Biochemistry Quizzes, memorializing a noted plant biochemist known for his research and teaching, drew fundamental biochemistry questions. (See event on YouTube at https://youtu.be/Y9T9ayRXyYE)
"Remote learning is causing ZOOM fatigue and impairing student's ability to focus," Leal writes on the registration page. " We hope that this educational activity will promote physically distant, socially close interactions between undergraduate students and further our institutions' ties."
He's back--not as a presidential candidate but as a meme.
A meme? It all started when photographer Brendan Smialowski for Getty Images photographed him at President Joe Biden's inauguration. As dignitaries in designer coats strolled by in the bitter cold (temperature stood at 22° and wasn't moving), there he was, all bundled up in a warm coat and mittens, sitting in a folding chair with his arms crossed, wearing a mask, and social-distancing from the crowd (pandemic precautions, you know).
Fact is, it's c-o-l-d in Vermont winters, and Sanders, who will be 80 on Sept. 8, knows that quite well. Cheers to him!
Enter Software engineer Nick Sawhney of New York. He created a tool that allows folks to insert the senator into any street address in Google Maps street view. Just click on https://bernie-sits.herokuapp.com/, insert a location, and you're good to go--that is, good for Sanders to go anywhere you want him to go. That could be Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Dublln, Duluth, Des Plaines, Dearborn Heights...and...ahem...Davis. (See some of the memes on this Washington Post article.)
In an interview with CBS, Sanders seemed amused by all the attention.
“In Vermont, we dress, we know something about the cold,” he told Gayle King. “And we're not so concerned about good fashion. We just want to keep warm. And that's what I did today."
Perhaps best of all, he agreed to a sweatshirt bearing the meme, and is donating the funds to Meals on Wheels.
Do you have questions to ask at the UC Davis Symposium on COVID-19? Questions about COVID tests or vaccines?
UC Davis Chancellor Gary May will deliver the opening remarks. UC Davis scientists Richard Michelmore, Nam Tran and Heather Bischel will explain the COVID tests underway at UC Davis and the Davis community and answer questions. A new addition to the panel is UC Davis Health physician Stuart Cohen, chief of the Division of infectious diseases and director, Hospital Epidemiology and Infection Control, "who is running vaccine trials will answer your questions about vaccines," Leal said.
"Given the overwhelming interest in the coronavirus vaccine, we have amended the COVID Symposium's program to include Dr. Cohen," Leal said. "He is leading a Phase 3 clinical trial of the Novavax vaccine called NVX-CoV2373. This vaccine has a subunit from the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and it's combined with an adjuvant, a boosting agent to improve the body's immune response to the vaccine."
“This symposium will yield important information that everyone should know,” said Leal, a chemical ecologist with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology, now the Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Free COVID-19 saliva tests are being administered by appointment to the Davis community--those who live in Davis or work at UC Davis--at testing kiosks on campus. It is a rapid, comprehensive laboratory-developed test that detects whether a person is currently infected with the coronavirus. The UC Davis Genome Center processes the saliva samples. Technically, the test uses a high throughput, real time, quantitative polymerase chain reaction protocol run on machines repurposed from the agricultural genetics industry.
The symposium also will cover how the COVID-19 tests administered in an hospital emergency room or at bedside can distinguish between whether a patient has COVID-19 or the flu. In addition, wastewater surveillance tests, also known as sewage tests, are underway to detect the virus.
Viewers also will learn about “Healthy Davis Together,” a program partnering UC Davis with the City of Davis to prevent the spread of the virus and “to facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular city activities and reintegration of UC Davis students back into the Davis community.”
Chancellor Gary May, Ph.D.
He became the seventh UC Davis chancellor on Aug. 1, 2017. A native of St. Louis, Mo., he received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1985 and his master's degree and doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1987 and 1991, respectively. Prior to becoming the UC Davis chancellor, he served as the dean of the Georgia Tech College of Engineering from July 2011-June 2017 and as the Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering from May 2005-June 2011. His resume also includes executive assistant to Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough from 2002-2005.
Heather N. Bischel, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2017, is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She focuses her research on protecting and improving human and environmental health through more sustainable water and sanitation practices, with emphases on waterborne viruses, water quality and reuse, organic micropollutants, and resource-oriented sanitation.To build a local early warning system for COVID outbreaks, she worked with Karen Shapiro (VetMed) and campus Safety Services & Facilities to launch wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 at UC Davis. Through the Healthy Davis Together Initiative, she co-leads the Environmental Monitoring program with David Coil (UC Davis Genome Center) to monitor SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, surface samples, and HVAC systems throughout the City of Davis.
Bischel holds degrees in civil and environmental engineering. She received a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 2005, a master of science degree from Stanford University in 2007, and a doctorate from Stanford University in 2011. She served as a postdoctoral scientist at the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Reinventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (2011-2012) and the Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (2012-2017).
Michelmore, a UC Davis distinguished professor in the Departments of Plant Sciences (College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences), Molecular and Cellular Biology (College of Biological Sciences) and Medical Microbiology and Immunology (School of Medicine), is the founding director of the UC Davis Genome Center, established in 2003. Educated in natural sciences at Cambridge, Michelmore joined the UC Davis faculty in 1982 and has authored more than 200 scientific papers. His multidisciplinary research utilizes molecular, genetic, and evolutionary approaches to plant genomics. He aims "to exploit such approaches for information-driven deployment of resistance genes in crop plants to provide more durable disease resistance." In addition, he is interested in fostering research to enhance global food security. His interests also include applications of DNA sequencing to all areas of biology and its increasing impact on society. In response to the current pandemic, he has been a major contributor to the team providing rapid testing for COVID-19.
Nam Tran serves as associate clinical professor and director of clinical chemistry, special chemistry, toxicology, Point of Care (POC) Testing, and the Specimen and Reporting Center (SARC). He is board-certified in clinical chemistry (high complexity laboratory director certification) through the American Board ofBioanalysis (ABB). He also serves as the instructor of record for the resident physician and medical student clinical chemistry rotations. He received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology in 2003 from UC Davis, and his doctorate in comparative pathology from UC Davis in 2008. He served as a postdoctoral scholar at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), UC DavisPOC Technologies Center, from 2009-2011. During this time, Tram also completed a master's degree in pharmacology and toxicology. He served as a National Institutes of Health Mentored Clinical Research Training Program (MCRTP) Scholar from 2011-2013.
Dr. Cohen specializes in clinical infectious diseases and infection control in the hospital environment. He is interested in AIDS, HIV infection and treatment of immuno-compromised patients and serves as primary infectious diseases consultant to transplant programs. Cohen uses molecular biology to investigate epidemiology of resistant microorganisms. His laboratory-based studies look at susceptibility testing of HIV clinical isolates to multiple antiretroviral agents. Additional research focuses on new antimicrobial agents and chemokine and cytokine level changes.
He received his bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1974 and his medical degree from Chicago Medical School in 1978. He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of New Mexico from 1978-81 and a fellowship in infectious diseases at the UC Davis Medical Center, 1981-1983. He is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease. (See his recent interview with UC Davis Health.)
This is the fourth in a series of COVID-19 symposiums that Leal has organized and moderated since April. A query from one of Leal's students prompted the Jan. 13 symposium.