- BScHon / 70
While studying biology at Carleton University in the 1960s, Graham Walker turned to organic chemistry in the hopes being able to synthesize DNA. He worked on nucleic acid synthesis and biochemistry at the University of Illinois, where he earned his PhD, and then added genetics to the mix as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California–Berkeley.
A leader in the field of DNA repair and mutagenesis, Walker has published more than 250 scientific articles and a textbook, is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, serves on the editorial boards of DNA Repair, Current Opinion in Microbiology, Life Science Education and is former editor in chief of the Journal of Bacteriology.
Since joining MIT in 1976, he has carried out basic research on DNA repair and mutagenesis in bacteria. Several of the DNA repair genes Walker has worked on have turned out to have human homologs that play roles in cancer prevention. Since being named an American Cancer Society Research Professor in 2001, Walker has used the award’s funds to initiate a project on DNA repair and mutagenesis in yeast and mammals.
Walker’s lab also studies the symbiosis between alfalfa roots and the nitrogen-fixing bacterium Rhizobium. He has uncovered commonalities between this symbiosis and the chronic intracellular infections caused by the human pathogen Brucella. His lab has also identified a specific defect in a gene, named bluB, involved in the least-understood part of B12 synthesis.
Walker was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor from 2001-2005, using the $1 million grant from the institute to establish an education group composed of postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates to work on curriculum development, including Web-based materials.
At Carleton, Walker is also helping to provide undergraduates with research opportunities. In 1998, he endowed the Margaret Biehn Walker Summer Fellowship to fund summer research for Bachelor of Science students in the biological chemistry or biochemistry programs.
“I saw I could try to help people do what I had been able to do,” says Walker. “I wanted to help young, excited students because I know what difference a research experience can make to their careers.”