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Passing of biochemistry Professor Daniel Gallie

September 25, 2020
College of Natural and Agricultural Sciences
September 25, 2020

Daniel Ross Gallie was born June 8, 1957, in Dearborn, Michigan and passed away on September 13, 2020 at the age of 63 after a five year struggle with cancer.  He earned his B.S. in Chemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Michigan in 1979 and his Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the University of California, Davis, in 1985, working with Clarence Kado in the Department of Plant Pathology.  He then pursued postdoctoral studies for two years at the John Innes Institute in England and then for three years at Stanford University.  At Stanford, he worked with Virginia Walbot, first as an NIH Cancer Biology Postdoctoral Fellow, then as an American Cancer Society Senior Postdoctoral Fellow.  He accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at UC Riverside in 1990 and advanced rapidly up the faculty ranks, becoming an Associate Professor in 1995 and a Full Professor in 1998.  He was advanced to Professor Step VIII in 2015.  In recognition of his many research accomplishments, he was elected as a Fellow of the American Associate for the Advancement of Science in 2005. 

Daniel Gallie
Daniel Gallie

Dan was a graduate student when molecular methods for plant biotechnology were just being developed.  For his Ph.D. dissertation, he studied the replication and stability regions of the naturally occurring plasmids of Agrobacterium tumefaciens, the only prokaryotic organism naturally capable of transferring DNA into eukaryotic cells.  One of this bacterium’s plasmids was being used as a vector to transfer foreign DNA into plant cells.  In his two years at the John Innes Institute, Dan focused on plant virus RNA, especially on factors governing the efficient packaging of foreign RNA into virus particles and the role of untranslated 5’ leader sequences on translation efficiency.  He pursued his interest in untranslated leader sequences and translation during his time with Virginia Walbot and expanded his expertise to include the role of the poly(A) tail.  He brought his expertise to UC Riverside and the first publication from his new laboratory was a landmark studying showing that the 5’ cap and 3’ poly(A) tail of mRNA function synergistically to regulate the translation efficiency of mRNA.  This publication had been cited by 526 subsequent publications at the time of Dan’s passing and Dan was its sole author.  The mechanisms of RNA translation and the regulation of cellular protein synthesis were the primary foci of Dan’s research at UC Riverside and the subject of over 60 of his refereed journal articles and eleven of his refereed review articles.  Dan focused especially on elucidating the interactions between eukaryotic initiation factors that bind the “cap” and “tail” ends of an mRNA to form a circular translation complex.  The establishment of the closed-loop mRNA promotes translational efficiency and safeguards the mRNA from destruction.  Dan showed that modulation of this interaction in heat stressed cells helps to prioritize the translation of mRNAs that provide protection from the stress.  Dan’s discoveries in plants were vigorously followed (and sometimes greatly debated) by non-plant researchers and led to the recognition of 5’ and 3’ mRNA end proximity in yeast and animals, now recognized as key to fine tuning the synthesis of proteins across eukaryotes.  Dan’s work led the way to understanding that 5’-3’ association is dynamic.

Shortly after establishing his laboratory at UC Riverside, Dan expanded his focus to include applied research having the overall goal of increasing crop productivity to address increasing world population.  Because plant growth and development is determined by environmental conditions in addition to the control of gene expression, he followed a plant systems approach and focused on (1) the role of plant hormones, particularly ethylene, abscisic acid, and cytokinin in regulating plant growth, responses to environmental stress, and programmed cell death, (2) the function of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) during plant growth and during environmental stress, and (3) the role of reactive oxygen species and the enzymes that detoxify them during plant growth and environmental stress.  Dan demonstrated that the vitamin C content of plants can be elevated by increasing the expression of the enzyme responsible for recycling ascorbate.  He also showed that increasing the vitamin C content of plant cells increases tolerance to ozone, while decreasing the vitamin C content increases tolerance to drought by limiting the ability of plant cells to detoxify reactive oxygen species, thereby decreasing the rate that water escapes from leaves.  Subsequently, Dan demonstrated that increasing the vitamin C content results in the production of twin and triplet seedlings in a single seed, providing a means of producing genetically identical seedlings, potentially increasing the production of high-value crops, and potentially enhancing per-seed survival rates for some species.  Dan also developed a technology to double the protein and oil content of corn while reducing its carbohydrate content.  He accomplished this by introducing a gene that enabled the production of cytokinin in developing flowers, resulting in kernels from pairs of flowers fusing into a normal-sized kernel containing two embryos and a smaller endosperm.  Because the embryo contains the majority of the protein and oil and the endosperm contains most of the carbohydrate, the resulting kernels have twice the nutritional value and considerably fewer carbohydrates than normal kernels.  Another of Dan’s accomplishments was to show that the ethylene receptors of maize are functionally conserved in Arabidopsis thaliana, where they have been most studied, despite the sequence divergence of the receptors between in the two organisms.  This work provides important foundational information for the eventual control of ethylene signaling in maize to ameliorate stress response in this important crop species.  Yet another accomplishment was to show that the insensitivity of a plant to ethylene can be regulated through the inducible expression of a specific ethylene receptor.  This work should be highly useful to the tomato industry where ethylene plays an important role in fruit ripening. 

During his career Dan published 111 refereed journal articles, 13 refereed book chapters, 17 review articles, 47 abstracts, and co-edited one book.  According to a Web of Science search of all databases, Dan’s work had been cited 8,258 times (an average of 60.72 citations per publication) and his h-index was 50 at the time of his passing.   Because of the applied nature of much of his work, he was also awarded 14 patents and had four additional patents pending.  He was always in high demand as a reviewer for manuscripts and grants, typically evaluating more than 50 manuscripts annually.  He served as member of the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry for a normal five-year term from 2012 to 2017, served as a member of the editorial board of the journal Translation from 2013 until it ceased publication in 2017, and served on the editorial board of the Faculty of 1000 (now Faculty Opinions) from 2001 until his passing.  Dan continued all of these activities despite his illness

For 22 years, Dan’s primary teaching assignment was the Biochemistry Department’s graduate Molecular Biology course (BCH 211).  Dan continually updated the course material to include the latest cutting edge information.  With Dan as instructor, BCH 211 was considered to be one of the most rigorous biological sciences courses offered at UC Riverside.  Student evaluations show that Dan was considered to be highly effective in presenting a great deal of information in a way that motivates the students to master it.  His students appreciated Dan’s ability to “make the science come alive” and his willingness to answer questions and patiently explain confusing topics.  In conjunction with BCH 211, Dan also taught a graduate special topics course that covered the modern biochemical and molecular techniques that underlie the advances covered in BCH 211. 

Outside of his professional life, Dan loved traveling and long hikes, reading and writing poetry, and exploring Buddhism and other spiritual traditions.  He was an avid cook, appreciating good food, fine wine, and lively conversation.  Dan enjoyed all kinds of music, but found classical music and opera the most rewarding.  He sometimes peppered his lectures with references to classical music or ballet.  One notable example was his lecture on prions – infectious proteins – and how celebrated choreographer George Balanchine was a victim of a prion disease.  This and other examples gave students hints of his interest in the arts.  Dan played the clarinet and more recently renewed his passion for musical composition (see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCs28uakIO3AspOTPqEJ2fQg on YouTube – his most recent composition is “Appassionata”).  Dan was always greatly interested in conservation.  He had been involved lately in touring and supporting Save the Redwoods projects involving redwoods and giant sequoias.  Dan made significant gifts and bequests to the Nature Conservancy to manage and preserve Carpenter Valley and Independence Lake, both near Truckee, CA.

In 2014, Dan became seriously ill.  In 2015, he was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of abdominal cancer.  Originally, he was given only a few months to live and assisted his laboratory staff in moving to the next stage in their careers.  Eventually, he learned that some medical researchers at UCLA are specialists in his type of cancer, and with their help and innovative experimental procedures, managed to fight it successfully for five years.  Despite being in a perpetual state of only short-term survival, his goal was to continue living his life as he did before being diagnosed, including coming to campus every day to continue his research, teaching, and service.  Although his condition precluded making long-term commitments (i.e., preparation/submission of grant proposals, acceptance of new graduate students or postdoctoral fellows), Dan continued to work in his laboratory by himself.  During his final five years he published six refereed journal articles, four as sole author and two describing work conducted in part with a former long-time research associate.  These publications cover the wide bread of his research:  three describe the roles of various translation initiation factors and poly(A) binding proteins in the regulation of protein synthesis, one describes the evolution of the ethylene receptor family, one shows that ethylene regulates the xanthophyll cycle in Arabidopsis thaliana, and the sixth describes the relationship between three types of iron superoxide dismutases and the overproduction of reactive oxygen species in Arabidopsis.  He also published one refereed review article as sole author that describes the evolution of the ethylene receptor family in plants.  Importantly, Dan completed and submitted two of the six refereed journal articles during the weeks between his cancer diagnosis and his learning of the cancer researchers at UCLA.  Dan’s courage throughout his five year struggle was an inspiration.

Dan was a remarkable scientist and mentor.  He had an intense work ethic and set a high standard of excellence.  He taught his students to always be prepared, to never miss deadlines, and to never be satisfied.  He taught them not to expect accolades, awards, or external recognition, but instead helped them develop internal satisfaction values.  Dan was witty, sarcastic, and never afraid to challenge dogma.  Dan left an indelible mark and will be missed.

Dan is survived by his husband John McCabe and the extended McCabe/Thorndyke clan, by his sister and brother-in-law Susan & Al Uema of Michigan, and by dear friends Martha Cain and Ron Perkins.  A memorial or tribute service will be scheduled at a date to be determined.  Donations in Dan’s memory can be made to UCR Foundation, PO Box 112, Riverside, CA 92502-0112, reference “Botanic Gardens General Fund.”  Donate online at https://gardens.ucr.edu/giving.