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American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology records - Historical Note

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) was organized in December 1906, as an offshoot of the American Physiological Society (APS). The American Society of Biological Chemists (ASBC) changed their name to ASBMB in 1987 after molecular biologists threatened to split the society. The American Physiological Society was created in 1887 with just twenty-eight members but by 1906 had grown considerably. Some APS members felt that the chemical side of physiology was not being fully addressed due to the many different areas of interest in physiology that were crowded within the society. Other members of the APS regarded the chemical side of physiology as outside the field of pure physiology. In addition, there was debate within the discipline of physiology as to where to place chemical physiology, under chemistry or under physiology? A chemical physiologist needed to have knowledge of organic chemistry and physiology in order to be successful. Indeed, new discoveries were leading to the inevitable conclusion that biochemistry was necessary to the solution of physiological problems. (Chittenden)

The progress that was being made in the field of biological chemistry led Dr. John J. Abel of The Johns Hopkins University to propose a meeting to organize an American Society of Biological Chemists. This organizational meeting took place on December 26, 1906 at the Hotel Belmont in New York City. Twenty-nine chemical biologists attended. They voted for the creation of a temporary organization with Russell H. Chittenden as chairman and William J. Gies as secretary. Under the Articles of Agreement, the society was governed by a council made up of nine members, who were selected by the members at the organizational meeting. The officers consisted of a President, Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer. The council would be made up of the four officers and five regular members of the society. The council was instructed to prepare a constitution, to be ratified by the members, and to call all future meetings of the society. A quorum of twenty members was needed to transact business for the society. Immediately the officers and council was elected. Officers consisted of Russell H. Chittenden, President; John J. Abel, Vice-President; William J. Gies, Secretary; and Lafayette B. Mendel, Treasurer. The additional members of the council were Otto Folin, Walter Jones, Waldemar Koch, John Marshall, and Thomas B. Osborne. Short biographies of the founding members of the society can be found in Chittenden's work.

It was voted a year later that in addition to the twenty-nine members in attendance at the organizational meeting in 1906, any biochemists who supported the supported the creation of the ASBC and wished to join could become charter members. This increased the charter membership to eighty-one. The first meeting of the Society after its organization was a special meeting held in Washington, D. C., on May 8-9, 1907. The APS and the Washington section of the American Chemical Society (ACS) held their meetings at the same time in Washington, thus allowing several joint sessions to be held. A decision was made to publish the papers presented at the annual meetings in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, under the title, "Proceedings of the American Society of Biological Chemists." ASBC continued its close relationship with the APS by forming the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) with them and the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) in 1911. The three groups' main objective was to coordinate the time and place of annual meetings and the arrangement of joint sessions. The general goal was to prompt a close and social affiliation between the three sister societies while at the same time to maintain their individual independence. An Executive Committee of the Federation (FASEB) was established and consisted of the presidents and secretaries of the constituent societies. (Chittenden)

The Journal of Biological Chemistry was incorporated in 1905 by Christian A. Herter, Edward K. Dunham, Alfred N. Richards, John J. Abel, and Reid Hunt, all of whom were charter members of the ASBC. In 1919, ASBC members met to discuss the incorporation of the Society in order to take control of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Inc. Christian A. Herter had died in 1910 and a memorial fund, in the sum of $40,000, was established by his friends and associates to further the interests of the Journal. ASBC was incorporated on September 12, 1919. On October 24, 1919, all of the capital stock of the Journal of Biological Chemistry and the securities of the Herter Memorial Fund were transferred to American Society of Biological Chemists, Inc. (Chittenden 69-73)

The society continued to grow, reaching over 11,000 members by 2005. One result of this growth was the establishment of an executive officer position. The executive officer would be in charge of the day-to-day running of the society and would serve as the manager of the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Robert A. Harte became the Society's first executive officer. Prior to the establishment of the executive officer position, there had only been an administrative assistant. Harte took the executive officer position beginning in September 1961. Upon Harte's retirement in 1977, Russell J. Hilmoe succeeded him. Charles C. Hancock succeeded Hilmoe in 1979 and served for many years.

Much of the historical information comes from Russell H. Chittenden's work, The First Twenty-Five Years of the American Society of Biological Chemists, published in 1945. Chittenden's history of the early years of the society is an account of the creation and growth of the society and of science in society. Chittenden, as the first President of the society was in a unique position to write the history of the society. There at its creation he was able to watch the society and the fields expand. A special note in the Scope and Content section can be found with more information about this book and its location within the collection. The American Society of Biological Chemists became the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 1987 after the molecular biologists threatened to break away from the Society. ASBMB has continued to grow and currently has over 10,000 members and has created several new journals. The goals of ASBMB are " to advance the science of biochemistry and molecular biology through publication of scientific and educational journals (Journal of Biological Chemistry, Molecular and Cellular Proteomics, Journal of Lipid Research, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education), organization of scientific meetings, advocacy for funding of basic research and education, support of science education at all levels, and promoting the diversity of individuals entering the scientific workforce."



Information in this Historical Note was drawn from:

About ASBMB.

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Accessed February 14, 2008 from http://www.asbmb.org/aboutus.aspx.

Chittenden, Russell H. The First Twenty-Five Years of the American Society of Biological Chemists. 1945.

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