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Ceremony of the Rebeiz Foundation for Basic Research Lifetime Achievement Award to Professor Castelfranco

Paul Castelfranco, Professor Emeritus of Plant Physiology, University of California at Davis , since 1991. AB. Chemistry, 1043, University of California, at Berkeley M.Sc. Chemistry, June 1950, University of California at Berkeley, Advisor, Donald S. Noyce Ph. D. Agricultural Chemistry, 1954, University of California at Berkeley, Advisor: Paul Stumpf STB from Harvard divinity School, 1957

Recollections of the achievements of Paul Castelfranco were detailed in Photosynthesis research in 2007 [Photosynth Res (2007) 94: 147-151]. Here we briefly describe some highlights of his career. His most enduring discoveries probably cover three aspects of the chlorophyll biosynthetic pathway, namely the discovery of the C-5 pathway of delta-aminolevulinic acid biosynthesis, the discovery of the specific requirement of ATP for the insertion of Mg into protoporphyrin IX and detailed studies of the formation of the cyclopentanone ring, the fifth ring of chlorophyll. Paul still reads theology and still writes poetry. He acknowledges that perhaps the kind of Science he does, requires an ear for poetry and an eye for theological relationships. In summary, Paul Castelfranco has made unique and important contributions to research and science education, through his love and dedication for the field of chlorophyll biosynthesis. He is a passionate scientist whose dedication to educating graduate students and postdoctoral trainees has considerably enriched the tetrapyrrole scientific community.

The Ceremony

Paul Castelfranco, was honored during a ceremony on June 7, 2008, at the Memorial Veteran Center in Davis California. Over 55 guests including three Board Members (Govindgee, C. A. Rebeiz, and Carole Rebeiz) attended the ceremony which included a social hour, a buffet dinner, and testimonials by C. A. Rebeiz (RFFBR), Govindjee (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign), Bill Breidenbach, Bill Lucas, and Alan Stemler (University of California at Davis) and his Daughter Ann Castelfranco. A recognition plaque and a monetary award were presented. Paul was recognized for his many outstanding research contributions to the field of chlorophyll biosynthesis and his devotion to the education of graduate students and postdoctoral trainees.

The recognition plaque read: 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award Professor Paul A. Castelfranco For his scientific achievements and original research in the field of Chlorophyll Biosynthesis

Paul’s wife of fifty-six years, Marie Castelfranco, did not attend the ceremony because she passed away on February 14, 2008. She would have enjoyed the ceremony and the presence of so many friends. She was missed by all who knew her. The rest of Paul’s immediate family attended: daughter Ann Castelfranco; son, John Castelfranco; grandson, Matthias Ross. Marie’s brother and sister-in-law, Louis and Betty Sander of St. Helena, also attended.

C. A. Rebeiz:

Reminisced about his days as a graduate student in Paul’s Lab where he learned to do clean science. That sputnik era was marked by scientific excitement, and discussions of science and philosophy often in English and in French. Fellow graduate students Bill Breidenbach and Ariella Oppenheim added fuel to the fire. Coffee hour was usually an occasion to discuss scientific ideas with Paul, Mendel Mazelis, and Bill Breidenbach. That training in Paul’s Lab left its undeniable mark on the way Rebeiz handled his graduate students in his own lab.

Then the platform was turned over to several other speakers, namely: Govindjee (Professor Emeritus University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign), Bill Breidenbach (Professor Emeritus, UC Davis), Bill Lucas (Director of the Department of Plant Biology UC Davis), Alan Stemler, (Professor Emeritus UC Davis), and Anne Castelfranco, Paul’s daughter and a mathematician.

Govindjee (the first recipient of the Rebeiz Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award):

Welcomed Paul Castelfranco to what he called “the Exclusive Club recognized by the Board of Directors of the Rebeiz Foundation”. He specifically thanked him for having accepted his earlier invitation to write a personal perspective on ‘Chlorophyll Biosynthesis’ (Castelfranco, 2007). This is a beautiful legacy for all future students in Plant Biology. Then Govindjee remarked “ Paul, I respect you for being a great human being, a scientist extraordinaire, a wonderful minister helping people, and a poet, providing enjoyment and depth to people.” Further, he added “I wish you well for the fulfillment of your innovative thoughts, together with Alan Stemler, regarding the unique role of bicarbonate in photosynthesis.

Bill Breidenbach stated:

I am delighted that Tino asked me to reminisce about Paul and delighted to see so many people gathered here to celebrate Paul’s many lifetime achievements. It is a richly deserved award to a very special person. I am only repeating what many have told me. I think that most of you regard Paul to be a true renaissance man: A man with enormous curiosity, a keen intellect and unique creativity. As a scholar he has effectively applied his talents to many fields of study. He has made outstanding contributions to science, theology, and poetry to name just a few. In short, Paul is a devout humanist; and a perceptive student of the human condition and behavior.

In 1962 I had a stroke of fortune when I came to Paul’s Lab. I sought the advice of Ed Maxi, a professor of Pomology. He encouraged me to talk to Paul Castelfranco and see if he would take me as a student. Fortunately, Paul agreed and put me right to work at the bench alongside Tino. Now many of you are familiar with Paul's more recent work on the light side of plant biology, studying the biosynthesis of chlorophyll in greening seedlings. But when I started in Paul’s lab; he and Tino were working on the dark side, studying among other things the activation and oxidation of acetic acid by cell free extracts of germinating peanut cotyledons, and Paul put me to work on this project. At first he guided me closely in designing experiments; then with the skill of a great teacher, he let me proceed on my own. Occasionally he would stop by my bench to see how things were going. Uncannily, these visits always seemed to come when I was uncertain about the next experiment and he always seemed to assure me that I had planned it perfectly, (at least the plan was perfected by the time he went on to visit with Tino or Ariella Oppenheim, the other student in the lab) Anyway, very shortly I was a co author with Tino and Paul on my first published paper.

Paul really understands people and how to encourage them. He would frequently stop by my bench to ask me to go for coffee or to the chalkboard because he wanted my opinion on some idea he was thinking about. What a confidence builder to know that you were not just a dumb student but were considered to be a colleague whose opinions was valued.

However, Paul contributions to Plant Biochemistry have not been as recognized as they should have been. For example, acetate is an intermediate in the break down of fats and carbohydrates on their path to oxidation to CO2. In most plant and animal tissues while intermediates of sugar metabolism can be oxidized to CO2, they are also water soluble and can be transported from cell to cell, and from tissue to tissue and used to synthesize many kinds of cell constituents. Fats which are not water soluble, do not leave their cellular site, but are oxidized completely to CO2. However, it had recently been shown by Harry Beevers that fat storing seed tissues had the Kornberg enzymes and that most of the fat was converted to sugars not to CO2. These cells had unique enzymes that allowed acetate to bypass two steps that oxidized it to CO2 and produced precursors for the synthesis of sugars. Moreover, based on studies of tissues that cannot make sugar from fat, all of the steps in the breakdown of fat and as well as the oxidation of the resulting acetate were thought to occur in the mitochondria. But Tino and Paul had just shown that in fat storing seed tissues, the early steps in the break down of fat were carried out by a non sedimenting fraction of the extracts not in the mitochondria. So while Paul was on sabbatical in Erasmus Marre’s lab the two had pondered what determined whether a particular acetate molecule was oxidized to CO2 or used to make sugar. They wondered whether their might be two kinds of mitochondria, “Krebs mitochondria” that oxidized acetate to CO2 by the way of Krebs cycle (named after Hans Krebs) or “Kornberg mitochondria” containing the bypass steps discovered by Kornberg, that allowed acetate to be used to synthesize sugar. As Paul and I looked at my results, Paul related Marre’s thoughts and mused that an unknown band observed in my centrifugation gradient might be “Kornberg mitochondria”. So in fact Paul was the first one to conjecture about what later became known as the glyoxysomes without knowing what they were. Paul encouraged me to go to Beevers lab and test whether the mystery band had Kornberg enzymes or not.

Subsequently, Beevers and I got all of the credit for showing that the mystery band did not contain mitochondria, but was made up of particles that contained all of the enzymes needed to convert fat to carbohydrate as well as Tino’s fat digesting enzymes which as it turned out appeared to be soluble because glyoxysomes were easily broken during manipulations. Beevers was soon inducted into the NAS and I was offered a job back at Davis. However Paul got little notice. I hope that by this story illustrates how Paul contributed considerably to our understanding of plant biochemistry and physiology.

Bill Lucas Stated:

Paul Castelfranco is a truly remarkable individual, being an excellent scientist and a wonderful human being. When I first came to the Botany Department at UCD I quickly became aware that Paul was a man of vision. During our daily interactions, and especially at faculty meetings, Paul was always offering ideas on how to advance the research and teaching mission of the Botany Department. At times, he was so far ahead of the rest of the faculty that some of his ideas were not fully understood, which meant that years had to pass before we eventually took up and implemented his plans. As a biochemist, Paul is impeccable, and his deep understanding of the field of plant biochemistry was efficiently passed on to his very talented graduate students. His pioneering contributions to our understanding of chlorophyll biosynthesis are now reflected in the textbooks of today. But Paul stood for much more, as his genuine interest in the wellbeing of the people around him made him a natural mentor to all of us "young" folks. I deeply appreciate all the help and advice that he provided during my early days on the faculty. Now, speaking as the current Chair of Plant Biology, I want to express the intense pride and respect that the current faculty feel towards Paul. He is still a model to us all, as every day he is in the laboratory preparing his own solutions and working along side Al Stemler to conduct pioneering research on the mechanism of the water-splitting reaction of photosystem II. Paul, long live your passion for science and life.

Alan Stemler stated:

I have known Paul Castelfranco since I arrived at Davis as a young assistant professor thirty short years ago. Time has steadily increased my admiration and appreciation of him as a scientist, scholar, historian, philosopher, theologian, sage and party animal. We have had many conversations over the years on topics ranging from the trivial to war and peace and the nature of everything. With the trivial subjects, I could sometimes hold my own. With all the rest, Paul provided the substance, with a seemingly endless supply of knowledge and wisdom. I had only to absorb it.

Among the accolades mentioned above, only the one describing Paul as a “party animal” may be a slight exaggeration, but I have in mind a meeting we attended together in 2006 at Pushchino near Moscow. Of course at the farewell banquet the generous amount of water on the tables was matched by an equal amount of vodka. No longer a serious drinker, I sipped some vodka to be polite to our Russian hosts. I did notice, however, that Paul was being exceedingly polite, to the point where, as the evening progressed, I thought it best to suggest that we retire to our hotel room. But by then it was too late. Paul was now on the dance floor with no sign of being hampered by his earlier “confusion” between the clear liquids at the dinner table. I went back to our room alone, to be half-roused at his return sometime later. Paul being twenty years my senior, I did not glance at the clock.

Despite Paul’s status as an elder statesman in the field of chlorophyll biosynthesis and the fact that he is most deserving of this lifetime achievement award, I am of the opinion that it is not the end of the road. I point out that he is still working in the lab, still writing, and certainly still thinking creatively. I can practically guarantee that his contributions to the field of photosynthesis will continue and, moreover, will be significant. On the other hand, the ceremony does offer a chance for old friends to assemble once more and if an excuse is necessary, there can be none more valid than to recognize Paul Castelfranco for his outstanding achievements and remarkable life.

Ann Castelfranco:

Reminisced about growing up in the warm shadows of Paul and Marie Castelfranco

Paul Castelfranco:

Reminisced about his interactions with various graduate students, and postdocs and the courtship of Tino and Carole Rebeiz who at the time were working in his Lab.


We thank the other eight Board Directors of the Foundation namely, Thomas Bach, Henry Daniell, Natalia Dudareva, Baishnab C. Tripathy, Julian Whitelegge, Hans Bohnert, Archie Portis, and Ken Hoober for their work that resulted in the LTAAward to Paul Castelfranco.

Special thanks to Bill Breidenbach, Bill Lucas and John Castelfranco for their Help. Without their efforts it would not have been possible to hold this ceremony in Davis California

Photographs of the ceremony are courtesy of Eric Wikander and Govindjee.

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Figure Caption:

Scenes from the Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony for Paul held on June 7, 2008 at the Veteran Memorial Center in Davis California are displayed below

First Row, from left to right: 1, Bill Breidenbach giving his recollections of Paul; 2, Bill Lucas giving his testimonial about Paul; 3, Paul Castelfranco listening to the testimonials; 4, Paul standing by the daughter of Art Grossman, Art Grossmann, and his wife (They were married by Paul) Devaki Bhaya

Second Row from left to right: Frame 1, back row from left to right, 1, Bill Breidenbach; 2, Florence Breidenbach; Carole Rebeiz. Frame 2, from left to right, 1, Clark Lagarias; 2, Judy Jernstedt; 3, Bruce Bonner; 4, Alan Stemler. Frame 3, back row from left to right, 1, Rajni Govindjee; 2, Govindjee; 3, Clark Lagarias. Frame 4, back row from left to right, 1, Roberta Rothe, 2 Ilia Howard, 3 Allisson Coudert

Third Row from left to right: Frame 1, back row from left to right, 1, Seymour Howard; 2, Vimla Goyal; 3, Sham Goyal. Frame 2, back row from left to right, 1, Louis Sander; 2, Ann Castelfranco; 3, Grant Noda; Frame 3, back row from left to right, 1, Melvin Green; 2, Don Kyhos 3, Marcel Rejmanek; 4, Betty Sander. Frame 4, Back row from left to right, 1Julin Maloof; 2, Anne Britt; 3, Steven Theg, 4, Diana Lucas

Fourth Row from left to right: Frame 1, back row from left to right, 1, John Castelfranco; Frame 2, back row from left to right, 1, Patty Sanui; 2, Mugako Ryugo; 3, Kay Ryugo. Frame 3, from left to right, 1, Barbara Dev; 2, Dinesh Sharma; 3, Vasu Dev; Tino Rebeiz. Frame 4, from left to right, 1, Paul Castelfranco, recipient of the 2007 RFFBR Life Time Achievement Award; 2, Govindjee, recipient of the 2006 RFFBR Life Time Achievement Award.

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