After starting out to become a physician, by a series of accidents I found myself at NIH in 1951 during its most productive growth phase. At age 26, I had a fully funded, independent laboratory and did not know what to work on. With advice from colleagues, I initiated a study of how penicillin kills bacteria. Twenty years later, my lab had outlined the structure and biosynthesis of the peptidoglycan of bacterial cell walls and had discovered that penicillin inhibited the terminal step in its biosynthesis catalyzed by transpeptidases. I then switched fields, moving to Harvard in 1968 and beginning the study of human HLA proteins. Twenty-five years later, the last half of which was spent in a stimulating collaboration with the late Don Wiley, our labs had isolated, crystallized, and elucidated the three-dimensional structures of these molecules and shown that their principal function was to present peptides to the immune system in initiating an immune response. More recently, the laboratory has focused on natural killer cells and their roles in peripheral blood and in the pregnant uterine decidua. It has been a wonderful scientific journey.


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