I’ve long forgotten the seminar topic, but I still remember John Glomset’s declaration: “Nature is trying to tell us something. In fact, She’s screaming in our ears. If we would only listen.” These remarkable words came back to me when I heard that John had died last August, age 86, in Bellvue, WA. To me, they describe John’s unique approach to science and a long career that reached from the biophysics of lipid–lipid interactions to medical aspects of cholesterol transport.

John A. Glomset

John A. Glomset

John was born in Des Moines, IA, in 1928. Following somewhat of a family tradition, he attended the University of Chicago, before going to medical school in Uppsala, Sweden. There he met his future wife, Britt. They would be together happily for the rest of his life.

With both a medical degree and a PhD from Uppsala, John moved to the University of Washington in 1960, where he spent his entire career. His early work focused on cholesterol metabolism and transport, with his major contribution being the discovery of lecithin-cholesterol acyl transferase, a central enzyme in the packaging of cholesterol into lipoproteins. This was a heady time in cholesterol research, with John’s work contributing significantly.

Throughout his career, John was always “listening” to Nature. This approach paid off many times, with two discoveries that serve as examples. The first example was the discovery of platelet-derived growth factor with Russell Ross. After changing the centrifuge used in their cell culture serum preparation, John noticed that the serum was significantly altered in cell growth activity. Many would view this as an irritation. John realized that Nature was screaming in his ear. They determined that the difference was in the degree of platelet contamination, which led them to purify this important growth factor.

A second major discovery was protein prenylation. At the time, John was tracking cholesterol metabolism, but routinely found that proteins were also labeled by cholesterol synthetic intermediates. These “off-target” products could have been ignored but, again, John listened to Nature. He teamed up with Mike Gelb in a very fruitful collaboration, and together they identified a protein (lamin B) that was covalently modified by a farnesyl moiety.

John referred to his life as “charmed,” because he realized how lucky he was to be able to follow his scientific passions. Well regarded by those who knew him, John was an HHMI investigator for many years and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990. Michael Brown and Joe Goldstein had a saying: “Read Glomset’s papers. They will seem odd now, but they will be crucial in 10 years.”

Outside of science, John and Britt raised two sons, Peter and Nils, who have successfully pursued their own paths. Carpentry was John’s passion, and he built much of the family home near Seattle as well as their vacation home on the Olympic Peninsula. His life was very charmed indeed. n

—Henry Higgs, Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College

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Henry Higgs

Henry Higgs is Professor of Biochemistry at Geisel School of Medicine, Dartmouth College


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