Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
No, they won't—at least not for Bruce Hammock, a distinguished professor at the University of California, Davis, and the hundreds of scientists he's trained over an academic career spanning more than four decades at UC Davis and UC Riverside.
Looking back over 2018, Hammock remembers fondly the weekend that 100 of his former laboratory alumni from 10 countries traveled to Davis to honor his work, reunite, collaborate, and reminiscence.
Billed as “Biochemistry and Society: Celebrating the Career of Professor Bruce Hammock,” the three-day event drew Hammock lab alumni from throughout the United States, as well as Egypt, Spain, China, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Sweden, Canada and the Czech Republic.
“It was really special and I will treasure that weekend always,” said Hammock, who trained scientists at UC Riverside for five years before joining the UC Davis faculty in 1980. He currently holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. He has directed the UC Davis Superfund Program, funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health (NIH/NIEHS), for 31 years.
The distinguished professor, known for his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology, meshes all four sciences in his 50-year research on acute and neuropathic pain in humans and companion animals. It all began with his basic research on how caterpillars become butterflies, research that led to key discoveries about chronic pain.
Since then, his lab has generated more than 80 patents, 300 postdoctoral fellows, and more than 65 graduates, who now hold positions of distinction in academia, industry and government.
Hammock's colleagues, and former postdoctoral fellows, graduate and undergraduate students and visiting scholars arrived at the lab reunion with their spouses--as well as their scientific posters for display and discussion. The posters covered everything from ground-breaking research in prestigious journals to a humorous look at his annual water balloon battles in front of Briggs Hall.
The scientists dined at the UC Davis Conference Center, the Buehler Alumni Center and the Stonegate Country Club; shared months, years and decades of memories; and toasted, roasted and gifted their mentor. Hammock, in turn, toasted, roasted and gifted them.
“We had a blast,” recalled organizer Shirley Gee, a former research toxicologist and manager of the Hammock lab for 31 years. She retired in June 2016 after 40 years of service with the university.
“I have had a vision of this event to honor Bruce for many years now, and it was such a thrill to see it come together,” she said. “Reconnecting in person with all the alumni and their families was more rewarding than I could have imagined, but even more importantly was the thrill of watching alumni reconnect with each other! There were a lot of tears in the house. Many people I think were surprised by how the years melted away when they began reacquainting. I think that speaks to the environment that Bruce created that led to many strong personal and professional bonds.”
Gee credited her seven-member committee—former Hammock students Keith Wing, Jim Ottea, Tom Sparks, Babak Borhan, Qing Li; postdoctoral fellow and “academic grandson” Kin Sing Stephen Lee, a former student of Babak Borhan; and colleague Sarjeet Gill, now a distinguished professor at UC Riverside, with greatly contributing to the success of the one-of-a-kind celebration.
As graduate students, and Hammock and Gill worked together in the John Casida lab at UC Berkeley and later in Larry Gilbert's lab where they co-discovered the enzyme, soluble epoxide hydrolase. Hammock remembers researching juvenile hormones and what's involved in "how caterpillars became butterflies."
Hammock has studied the enzyme system and its inhibitors ever since. He recently formed a Davis-based company, EicOsis, to develop an orally active non-addictive drug for inflammatory and neuropathic pain for human beings and companion animals. Human clinical trials are scheduled to begin in 2019. Several seed-fund grants and a NIH/NINDS (National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke) Blueprint Development Grant support EicOsis.
Hammock, described at the lab reunion as a “genius,” collaborates with scientists worldwide in what's been described as “unprecedented research with a multidisciplinary, integrated approach to research focused on insect biology, mammalian enzymology, and analytical chemistry.” He has authored more than 1000 publications on a wide range of topics in entomology, biochemistry, analytical and environmental chemistry in high quality journals, and has been cited more than 54,000 times. In the epoxide hydrolase field, the Hammock laboratory has published almost 900 peer-reviewed papers.
Tom Sparks, who was Hammock's first graduate student at UC Riverside, chronicled Hammock's career and recalled humorous anecdotes from his early professorship at UC Riverside. A former professor at Louisiana State University, and now a research fellow in Discovery Research at Dow AgroSciences (now Corteva Agriscience, Indianapolis, Sparks praised Hammock's intellect and curiosity. “For Bruce, it was all about the journey, looking around and operative at the interface between entomology, biochemistry and chemistry.”
Gill, along with University of Utah emeritus professor Glenn Prestwich and UC Davis research scientist Karen Wagner also delivered presentations, fondly recalling their shared time and science with Hammock.
Keith Wing, who was Hammock's second graduate student at UC Riverside/Davis, served as emcee at the lab reunion. A former senior research associate at DuPont and Rohm and Haas and current consultant, Wing said “Bruce has inspired many hundreds of developing scientists. For myself and many others, he was able to see what we could become as scientists and social contributors before we could see it ourselves."
Qing Li, a professor in the University of Hawaii's Department of Molecular Biosciences and Bioengineering College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources who received his doctorate from UC Davis, studying with major professors Bruce Hammock and James Seiber, said that "Bruce is an eminent scientist and a great mentor. Many of us have benefited from his effective mentorship. Back in 1990, after he signed my dissertation, he shook my hand, and then he asked me to tape-record it and give him the recordings -- a great 'homework' assignment and good practices for me."
Others commented that they learned this from Hammock: “We explore the unexpected and get to do things that don't work” and “Design things to fail; when they don't fail follow along.”
Hammock, the crowd agreed, seems to follow baseball legend Yogi Berra's sage advice: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
Gill praised Hammock's “impact on human health, environmental health” as well as his love of the outdoors—from kayaking to mountain climbing.
Numerous alumni lauded Hammock's sense of humor. One scientist quoted Albert Einstein as saying “Creativity is intelligence having fun” and added “Bruce is always having fun.”
Among the other comments:
- “I never heard him speak a cross word.”
- "He treats everyone with respect.”
- "Bruce loves science and he loves people.”
- "He never heard a crazy idea.”
- "What Bruce does—he delivers the future.”
- "Bruce has a lot of determination and can approach difficult problems from multiple angles.”
- "Bruce values strong relationships with friends he has made over the years”
A native of Little Rock, Ark., Hammock received his bachelor of science degree, magna cum laude, in 1969 from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, where he majored in entomology and minored in zoology and chemistry. Then it was off to UC Berkeley, for his doctorate in entomology/toxicology in 1973, and postdoctoral fellowship.
It was at UC Berkeley where he met and married his wife, Lassie, who had just entered the doctoral program in plant physiology. They married in 1972 and then “the Army called me up,” Hammock remembers.
Hammock served as a public health medical officer/first lieutenant with the U.S. Army Academy of Health Science in San Antonio, Texas; and then did more postdoctoral research at the Rockefeller Foundation, Department of Biology, Northwestern University, Evanston. Ill.
Hammock then joined the faculty of the Division of Toxicology and Physiology, UC Riverside Department of Entomology in 1975 before heading for UC Davis in 1980 to accept a joint-faculty appointment in toxicology and entomology.
Bruce and Lassie reared three children: Tom, Bruce and Frances. “Frances and her husband, Adrian, teach math at UC San Diego; Bruce is on the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine faculty; and Tom, a graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory, makes movies,” Hammock said, adding that he and Lassie appeared in one of the movies that Tom directed: "The Last Survivors."
Highly honored by his peers, Hammock is a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors, which honors academic invention and encourages translations of inventions to benefit society. He is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the Entomological Society of America, and the recipient of scores of awards, including the Bernard B. Brodie Award in Drug Metabolism, sponsored by the America Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics; and the first McGiff Memorial Awardee in Lipid Biochemistry.
Hammock told the crowd at the reunion that he began his career studying insect science but switched to human research after encountering “all the suffering involved in acute and neuropathic pain.”
His insect science research centered around how a key enzyme, epoxide hydrolase, degrades a caterpillar's juvenile hormone, leading to metamorphosis from the larval stage to the adult insect. He then wondered "Does the enzyme occur in plants? Does it occur in mammals?" It does, and particularly as a soluble epoxide hydrolase in mammals.
“It is always important to realize that the most significant translational science we do in the university is fundamental science,” said Hammock. “The extreme and poorly treated pain that I observed as a medical officer in a burn clinic in the Army, is a major driver for me to translate this knowledge to help patients with severe pain.”
And it all began with him asking how caterpillars turn into butterflies.
"Science is full of surprises," the distinguished UC Davis professor said. "We need to remember that the concept, the clinical target, and even the chemical structure came from asking how caterpillars turn into butterflies."
Xu, professor of agro-ecology at the China Agricultural University (CAU), is on a yearlong sabbatical in the Hammock lab. He received assistance in obtaining the grant from project manager Bruce Hammock and program manager Shirley Gee, now retired, both co-investigators.
“This is a highly competitive program and this grant is a huge honor for Ting and for Shirley Gee,” said Hammock, who holds joint appointments in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Center.
The $330,000 grant, funded by China, is a cooperative agreement between UC Davis and China. “The grant is quite timely, as UC Davis is working to increase scientific exchange with China,” Hammock said. “We have been collaborating with Ting's group for several years on nanobody-based immunoassays to improve human and environmental health.”
Two previous students from Professor Xu's laboratory have studied in Davis and the funds will allow additional senior Ph.D. students from Xu's laboratory to join the Hammock lab.
Xu described immunoassays as “a rapid, sensitive and cost effective method of analysis for pesticides.” Technically, engineering antibodies “such as a variable domain of heavy chain antibody (VHH) from camelids and a single-chain antibody variable fragment (scFv) from chickens have advantages over monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies in the respect of small size, thermal stability, solubility and easy generation,” Xu explained. “The objectives of this project focus on the production of specific VHHs and scFvs for several pesticides and the development of engineering antibodies based immunoassays for pesticide environmental exposure and food safety. The novel pesticide antibodies are expected to improve the assay sensitivity and stability.”
“Nanobodies are revolutionizing immunoassay development and possibly disease therapy,” explained Shirley Gee, UC Davis collaborator on the proposal. “It was thrilling over the last few months to have Ting and his student here at the same time as Gualberto Gonzalez from Uruguay and his students since we are three of the major labs developing this technology for analyzing environmental and food toxins.”
Among other benefits, the research can aid farm workers, who would be monitored for pesticides in their urine. The assay could distinguish between exposed and unexposed populations and provide useful information about relative exposure related to crop or use of personal protective equipment.
Xu's publications directly address the fact that the immunoassay method, especially ELISA, is an effective screen tool for the agrochemicals and pollutants in the environment. His main contributions to science are associated with design of novel haptens, production of tradition (monoclonal and polyclonal) and engineering antibodies, and development of competitive and non-competitive enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays (ELISA) for small molecules.
Xu received his doctorate in agro-ecology in 2003 from CAU, and did postdoctoral research in immunoassays in 2007 at the University of Hawaii. He joined the CAU faculty in 2003 as a lecturer and advanced to associate professor in 2007, and professor in 2013. Twice honored by Chinese governments, Xu received third prize for the Agriculture Science and Technology Award by the China Ministry of Agriculture in 2009, and second prize for the Technological Invention Award by the China Ministry of Education in 2013.
DAVIS--If you preface her name with “research scientist” or “renowned toxicologist,” followed by “40 years of service at the University of California, Davis,” those words don't even begin to describe her or her work.
Shirley Gee, principal investigator, lecturer, mentor and the longtime manager of the Bruce Hammock research lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, retired June 30, leaving a long chain of accomplishments, admiration, appreciation and affection extending locally, nationally and globally.
Gee, who joined the Hammock lab in 1985, managed a team of researchers that annually included some 40 scientists: graduate students, technicians, post graduates and visiting professors from all over the world.
“Forty seems like a crazy big number,” Gee said, “and I am a little overwhelmed by it (the number).”
"Shirley Gee is a Davis hero," said Hammock, distinguished professor of entomology who holds a joint appointment with the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. "Her resume of 147 peer review publications is the envy of most faculty members, but Shirley's personal research was just a part-time job. She provided the infrastructure for an interdisciplinary laboratory averaging 40 people for decades; she was key to the infrastructure of the department ranging from installing and maintaining computers through chemical safety and control.”
“She has been a parent, colleague and friend to scores of visiting scientists and students from around the world,” Hammock said. “Shirley is a gifted teacher both in the classroom situation at UC Davis but also in outreach where she has provided training to governmental and industrial scientists from around the world. She was the principal investigator of multiple projects bringing a large amount of research funding to the campus. Internationally she best known as the face of the discipline of environmental immunoassay having edited two books in the area and working on a third volume now. Her impact in the field was demonstrated last December when she organized a symposium held in Hawaii on environmental biosensors, attended by scientists from around the world. In fact scientists, from five countries attended a surprise dinner for Shirley at the University of Hawaii."
In 2011, Gee received the UC Davis Staff Assembly's Citation for Excellence, presented by the chancellor. “Shirley seeks ways to help the lab and the department be successful,” the nominators wrote. “She is extremely efficient and effective” and a “can-do person skilled at anticipating and solving problems in a friendly, courteous and timely manner.”
Her fellow employees praised her competency and friendliness. “Her input is critical to every project underway in our lab,” Hammock related. “One research project brought almost $2 million in direct costs to the campus last year; she is one of the unsung heroes who keeps this program going.”
A UC Davis alumnus and a longtime member of the Society of Toxicology and American Chemical Society, Gee holds a bachelor of science in biological sciences and a master's in pharmacology and toxicology (1981).
At UC Davis, Gee quickly advanced in her career: from laboratory helper in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics to lab assistant, staff research associate IV and adjunct lecturer in the Department of Environmental Toxicology, to toxicologist at SRI International in Menlo Park, where she worked three years before joining the Hammock lab. Since 2007, she has served as the director of research and founding member/manager of Synthia LLC, Davis.
“I have long been interested in human and environmental exposure to toxicants and utilizing screening methods to evaluate the presence of the toxicant as well as the potential for effects,” Gee writes in her biosketch. “Immunoassays have been used clinically for more than 50 years to detect the presence of drugs, hormones and microorganisms for human medical diagnostics.”
Long-term colleague Bruce Hammock is a pioneer in the field that applies immunoassay and biosensor technology to environmental toxicants. “Shirley led a project that extended the technology to measurement of a variety of environmental toxicants including pesticides, industrial byproducts, bioterror agents and flame retardants,” Hammock said. It also included the application of new concepts to improve the robustness, sensitivity and high throughput that is required for environmental analysis and for the analysis of low level exposure to toxicants in humans and animals in large scale studies.
Gee has collaborated with investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Uruguay, Mexico and Sweden using the assays for dioxins. She participated in a farmworker exposure study on the herbicide paraquat in Costa Rica and a farmer/consumer study in Thailand on exposure to pyrethroid insecticides. She is also noted for exploring novel immunoassay technologies, such as the use of nanobodies and to transfer this technology to end users throughout the world.
Her major contributions to science are four-fold:
1. Her dissertation work focused on the comparative metabolism of xenobiotics in vivo and in vitro. She worked with a variety of organisms including rats, mice, monkeys, insects and marine invertebrates. This provided a foundation for later work on the development of novel primary hepatocyte cell cultures as high throughput screening methods to assess xenobiotic toxicity and to explore mechanism of toxicity. Her colorimetric assay for monitoring cytochrome P450 assays are the basis of assays used now to monitor these enzymes in projects ranging from drug metabolism to environmental health.
2. Working with Hammock who pioneered the development of immunoassays for pesticides, Gee developed the first immunoassays for pesticides found as ground and surface waters contaminants by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. Some of these assays were transferred to their analytical laboratory where in the early 1980s they helped end fish kills and drinking water contamination from rice herbicides. Shortly thereafter she co-authored a user's manual on assay development and use as a cooperative project with the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The basic assay development and validation continues today and has found application to many environmental contaminants and includes the development of commercially available test kits.
3. Her interest in metabolism led her back to extending assay development from parent compounds to their metabolites. “Metabolites excreted in urine are useful biomarkers of exposure and the immunoassays developed have been used in several exposure studies,” Gee explained. “The studies have provided guidance to help reduce pesticide exposure by examining pesticide exposure patterns based on urine tests, then relaying educational information to the population.”
4. Since 1975 the gold standard of antibody reagents has been monoclonal antibodies. Touted as a better defined and continuously available reagent for immunoassays, monoclonal antibodies have applicationsboth in analytical chemistry, including such things as home pregnancy kits and therapeutics where many new drugs are monoclonal antibodies. However, they are limited because their size does not allow penetration of the cell membrane and ‘humanizing' them for therapeutics is difficult. At 1/10th the size, single domain antibodies derived from camelids (VHH) will penetrate cell membranes, are easy to clone, express and genetically modify. Leading a team of researchers Gee explored the utility of these novel antibodies for the detection environmental contaminants and other small molecules. "Where else but Davis could we have had llama and alpaca around the corner?" Hammock quipped.
Gee was honored at a surprise ceremony at the 2015 International Chemical Congress of Pacific Basin Societies (Pacificchem), held Dec. 15-20 in Honolulu. The group meets every five years. Gee conducted a symposium at the event, which included scientists from seven countries that she has trained.
The surprise party originated with Quing Li, professor at the University of Hawaii and a Hammock lab alumnus, and Hammock. The group presented her with a professional grade ukulele as a retirement gift.
Well-wishers gathered July 22 in the Stonegate Country Club, Davis, for another retirement party.
Gee, who grew up in Elk Grove, recalled some of the highlights of her career.
“I am really a hometown girl,” she said. “I grew up in Elk Grove and got my bachelor's degree in biology at UC Davis. I had taken some elective courses in environmental toxicology. Not having any idea about what happens next, except that I had to find a job, I started knocking on the doors of my professors, including one from E. Tox. He hired me as a lab helper on a trial basis and my career built from there. Eventually, he encouraged me to obtain an advanced degree. So I decided to get a master's degree in pharmacology and toxicology. It took a lot of years because I was in no hurry, was only going to school part time and the final step was a dissertation and publication of my research. I don't much like writing, so that took time. The driving force was that my boss Dr. Robert Krieger, moved to another university. At the time Dr. Krieger introduced me to Bruce Hammock, because he knew Bruce was coming to Davis. But Bruce couldn't hire me, because his funding was tied up in the research office. So instead I went to work in the comparative metabolism lab at SRI International working with some former grad school alumni. About three years later when I decided to return to Davis, I approached Bruce and lo and behold, the timing was perfect. His staff research associate (SRA) was just leaving. “
“Research accomplishments are hard for me to describe because the vast majority of work that I have published is accomplished by very talented and driven researchers in the lab,” she said. “My staff role provides support so that the infrastructure of the lab runs smoothly allowing the researchers to do their work efficiently. My mentor role provides guidance and probably what I love the most is tossing around ideas just to see what might stick.”
What will she miss about UC Davis and the Hammock lab?
“I won't miss much about UC Davis,” Gee said. “That's because I don't have plans to leave the Davis community and as a member of the retiree community I pretty much will still have access (and at discounted rates) to all the cool things about UC Davis, the library, Mondavi, the Arboretum. As for the Hammock lab, well, of course, it is all the people. Bruce has been a steadfast friend for many years and I will miss our daily interactions. It has been wonderful to share hopes and dreams of the students and postdocs and visitors that have come through the lab.”
“I have nothing specific planned immediately except for some travel. The fantastic thing about working in this lab is that I have made many friends that live all over the world. I will enjoy touching bases with them again in person. As for long term plans? Those that know me, know that I will not sit still for long. There is going to be something out there that tweaks my interest and that I will give it to wholeheartedly.”
"Shirley Gee is one of the truly amazing people that I have known,” Hammock said. “ She looks for things to do, and everything she does is accomplished efficiently and creatively. She is understated but perfect at every goal. Then she accomplishes all this while being encouraging, kind and understanding. Having Shirley as a colleague and particularly as a friend has been one of the most wonderful gifts in my life. We all wish her well."
Said Hammock lab researcher Christophe Morisseau: “To put it simply, we are becoming orphans. Shirley has been the lab's Mom for many years, and took care of numerous time consuming administrative duties as well as directing the ‘immunoassay' part of the lab. Like a Mom, she cannot be replaced.”
Said Hammock lab program manager Cindy McReynolds, shortly before her colleague's retirement: “Shirley is the first person everyone goes to for information and is a constant source of sound advice. I can't tell you how many times she would walk into the office while we were debating a problem and offer the most logical and simple solution. After thinking on it for a second, we would all say, ‘that makes sense, why didn't we think of that hours ago!' She also seems to know when to just listen. I'm going to miss her.”
Longtime Hammock lab administrative assistant Grace Bedoian, now retired, recalled that “Shirley was always composed and got the job done. She was really a pleasure to work with.”
Hammock lab executive administrative assistant Louisa Lo was more optimistic. “Shirley is not retiring,” she declared. “She is only working from home!”
He had served as an Extension specialist at UC Riverside since September 1994, specializing in pesticide exposure assessment and worker health and safety. He also was an adjunct clinical professor for the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Loma Linda University, southern California.
During his 1971-80 academic appointment at UC Davis, Dr. Krieger worked on insect research and received a major campus teaching award. Among his former students: toxicologist (now retired) Shirley Gee of the Bruce Hammock lab, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.
Colleague James Seiber, then chair of the UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology and now emeritus professor, UC Davis Food Science and Technology, described him "as a one-of-a-kind person and scientist...His contributions to pesticide science and toxicology are so significant. He was the fitting recipient of the International Award for Research in Agrochemicals several years ago."
Born Nov. 23, 1943, Dr. Krieger received his bachelor's degree in chemistry/biology in 1967 from Pacific Lutheran University, Tacoma, Wash., and his doctorate from Cornell University in 1970, where he was a student in the Department of Entomology and a National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Trainee in Environmental Toxicology.
In 1986 he became a staff toxicologist and later branch chief, Worker Health and Safety, California Department of Food and Agriculture (now California Environmental Protection Agency). He served two major Washington D.C., consulting firms (1991-94) in exposure and risk assessment before returning to the University of California, as an extension toxicologist at UC Riverside. He taught toxicology at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. His research concerned the fate and effects of pesticides in humans, risk assessments, and risk communication. His latest studies concerned methods and techniques for determining the availability of chemical residues on surfaces, exposure biomonitoring of urban and agricultural populations that are exposed to pesticides and other chemicals.
A noted toxicologist and teacher, he received the 2006 Distinguished Award in Extension from the Pacific Branch, Entomological Society of America; and in 2005, received both the Society of Toxicology's Public Communication Award and the American Chemical Society's International Award for Research in Agrochemicals. In 2006, the Society of Toxicology presented him with its Education Award.
Shirley Gee recalled many fond memories of Dr. Krieger and noted that he was a great teacher. In the late 1970s he taught an introductory course in toxicology. He as well-known for his 'multi-media' slide shows. We would have 100's of photos turned into slides by Reprographics and he would run as many as three slide projectors at a time on multiple screens and music. I think this technique was really appealing to the students and as a result, his class had, I'm sure hundreds of students. The students that were his teacher assistants had their hands full carting the slide projectors around and making sure there were no glitches during the lecture. But of course, it wasn't just the multi-media, it was his delivery of the material. Succinct, relevant to the student and with charm."
"Another thing, is that he loved fire," Gee recalled. "We had fantastic campfires both when the lab group went camping and in his backyard. The lab's favorite activity was the annual camping trip to Mendocino. Salmon cooked on the campfire was the best!"
"From a personal standpoint, he was the one that encouraged me to get a master's degree and taught me what research was all about," Gee said. "It was also his introduction of me to Bruce (Hammock) that set me off on a long term research career. I could not have asked for a better mentor."
For his biosketch, see http://faculty.ucr.edu/~krieger/KriegerCV.pdf