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Vol. 34 No. 1
January-February 2012

IUPAC Wire | News and information on IUPAC, its fellows, and members organizations
See also www.iupac.org/indexes/News

Michael Blackburn Awarded 2011 Arbuzovs Prize
Michael Blackburn was awarded the International Arbuzovs Prize at the Butlerov 150th Anniversary Congress in Kazan, sponsored by the Russian Academy of Science. Blackburn is an emeritus professor of chemical biology at the University of Sheffield and a visiting professor at Xiamen University, Fujian, China.

The International Arbuzovs Award was created in 1997 to commemorate the great achievements of Alexander Arbuzov (father) and Boris Arbuzov (son), who established a golden era for organic chemistry in Kazan. It is awarded every two years to an outstanding chemist who has made significant international contributions to phosphorus chemistry.

Prime Minister of Tatarstan, Ildar Khalikov (right), presents Michael Blackburn with the Arbuzovs Prize.

The presentation ceremony, which took place in the Concert Great Hall of Kazan University on 19 September 2011, was presided over by the Prime Minister of Tatarstan, Ildar Khalikov. Blackburn’s Laureate Lecture was delivered at the close of the Butlerov Congress.

Blackburn graduated from Cambridge University, did his Ph.D. studies on Vitamin B12 in Nottingham, and returned to Cambridge as a Rockefeller Fellow and University Demonstrator in Organic Chemistry. Working with Lord Todd, he was initiated into phosphorus chemistry and the synthesis of nucleic acids just 50 years ago. Collaborations within the youthful Cambridge Laboratory for Molecular Biology led to his use of carrier-free 32P-phosphate to establish the role of puromycin in ribosomal peptide synthesis, to the structure of thymine photodimer in bacteria, and to the mechanism of phosphate diester formation by the reagents then used for oligonucleotide synthesis. He became an active member of the international phosphorus community, beginning with the Georg Wittig Symposium in Heidelberg in 1964 and culminating in his organizational role in the 16th ICPC Meeting in Birmingham in 2004.

Juxtaposing protein crystallography and 19F NMR spectroscopy to deliver accurate, and sometimes critical, analyses of these complexes, Blackburn has rationalized major features of enzymatic phosphoryl transfer in terms of the “anionic shield” of phosphate esters and “charge balance” as a hypothesis explaining how enzymes respond to it. These studies are now demonstrating the relative simplicity of enzyme catalysis of kinases, phosphatases, and mutases even though these processes include some of the most remarkable accelerations of any enzymatic reactions. In conclusion, these investigations lead to the conclusion that phosphorus is the unique element whose oxyacids are capable of fulfilling the multiple roles of phosphate esters in terrestrial life and fully justify Lord Todd’s 1981 prediction that phosphorus (sic) will play the same roles in life wherever it is found in the universe.

Blackburn has been a member of the IUPAC Organic and Biomolecular Division on and off since 2000. He returns this year as a titular member.


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