Dr. Tom Grace and Professor Shangyin Gao received “Lifetime Achievement Award”
The highest honor given by the Society for In Vitro Biology is the Lifetime Achievement Award. It is presented to scientists who are considered pioneers or highly influential researchers to the science and art of cell culture. They are men and women who have devoted their careers to exemplary research and/or teaching. The recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award are selected by vote of the Board of Directors from a list of nominations received and recommendation by the Awards Chair. Eugene Elmore was the chairperson for 2004.
The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to three scientists at the 2004 SIVB World Congress in San Francisco, California. The Awardees were Dr. Thomas Grace,Prof. Sangyin Gao, Dr. Walter Nelson-Rees, and Dr. Trevor Thorpe. Over the next issues of In Vitro Report, each of the winners will be highlighted with an article written by those who prepared the nomination.
At the 2004 World Congress on In Vitro Biology in San Francisco, two pioneers of invertebrate cell culture, Dr. Tom Grace and Professor Shangyin Gao, received Lifetime Achievement Award, the highest award given by the Society for In Vitro Biology (SIVB.)
Dr. Grace and Professor Gao were two legendary figures in the insect cell culture community. They were the first who established continuous cell lines from insects. The exceptional achievements they made about four decades ago have resulted in the rapid development and important applications of insect cell culture. The breakthrough made by Dr. Grace and Professor Gao has affected virtually all subsequent research dealing with insect cell culture, such as the emergence of the baculovirus-insect cell culture system which resulted from intensive and elegant studies on the molecular biology of baculoviruses and the development of a novel insect-virus-cell culture system. The use of in vitro expression systems has not only become an important tool for basic research, but represented a widely use technology for commercialized products in agriculture and human health around the world.
The first successful insect cell lines were achieved independently within a 3 year time span by both Professor Gao in Wuhan, China, in 1958, and by Dr. Grace in Canberra, Australia, in 1961. The two had never met and were unaware of each other’s work. However, they shared outstanding talent.
Professor Shangyin Gao received a BS degree in science in 1930 from Donhwu University, China, and a BS degree in literature in 1931 from Rollins college in Florida, the U.S. Then he studied life science and received a PhD degree in 1935 from Yale University in the U.S. In the same year he returned to China and started teaching at Wuhan University utill his death in 1989. From 1945 to 1947 as a visiting scholar Professor Gao studied with the famous virologist, Nobel prize winner Dr. Wendew Stanley, and started his new career in virology. In 1947 he returned to China and established China’s first virology research lab in Wuhan University. After about ten years of hard work, Professor Gao successfully established continuous silk moth cell lines. He was not able to announce his breakthrough to those outside of China, because China sadly closed the door to the rest of the world during that period of time. Luckily, the only abstract submitted by Professor Gao to an international conference drew attention of the cell culturists immediately. Dr. Karl Maramorosch and his colleagues at SIVB (back then the TAC) overcame the political barriers and discovered the details about Professor Gao’s insect cell lines. That was an important moment to the invertebrate field, since vertebrate cell lines had been established about 10 years previously, and now invertebrate cell lines had finally caught up. In 1978, as soon as China re-opened the door to the world Professor Gao was invited to the 6th International Invertebrate Virology Conference in Czechoslovakia. Although for more than 30 years Professor Gao had not visited any countries, he had followed the advances of insect virology. The world finally heard his full story about the insect cell lines he established and also the development of insect virology in China. At this late time of his life Professor Gao had received many awards and honors from China and the world. He served as liaison to connect the researchers in China to the other part of the world. He had also hosted scholars to his lab from other counties. Dr. Karl Maramorosch visited his lab in 1989, shortly before Professor Gao was passed away. Today, many SIVB members still remember Professor Gao as they have met him in SIVB and other meetings. Professor Gao’s contribution to SIVB and to cell culture will be with us forever.
In 1961 Dr. Tom Grace from Australia announced he successfully established cell lines from the emperor gum moth (Antherea eucalypti). Although Dr. Grace’s invention was independent from Professor Gao’s, they spent the same amount of time, about ten years, to get the rewarding results from their extremely hard work, and they confirmed each other’s invention with their insect cell lines.
Dr. Grace’s interest in insect began when he was nine years old when he first collected the beautiful yellow and black spotted jewel beetle (buprestid) in his schoolyard. His love with insects was never stopped. In 1946 Dr. Grace studied science in Sydney University, then, became an assistant of Dr. Max Day in the Division of Entomology Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, now CSIRO. Since 1953 Dr. Grace commenced a project to grow insect cells in culture. His great interest was not only study the viruses, which caused diseases in insects, but also those viruses, which attacked animals and plants, and were transmitted by insects. He used the ovarian tissue of the emperor gum moth (Antherea eucalypti) and silkworm (Bombyx mori.) Both these insects contained haemolymph which, at this stage was a necessary ingredient of the medium and the cells were susceptible to polyhedral virus diseases. He also grew cells of mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti) because of their medical importance. From 1957 to 1958 Dr. Grace studied at the Rockefeller University in New York in the laboratory of Dr. Karl Maramorosch. There, he gradually refined a medium he had developed using insect hemolymph as the base. This was the first medium generated for insect cells and later became known as the very popular Grace’s Medium. With this medium, he was able to keep insect cells alive for 3 months.
On returning to Canberra in 1959, Dr. Grace was accepted as a PhD candidate in the Department of Microbiology at the Australian National University. It was in 1961 when he was working on his PhD program that Dr. Grace successfully established his first four insect cell lines from ovarian tissue of the emperor gum moth. In 1964, Dr. Grace received his PhD degree and by then he has generated more cell lines, including the first mosquito cell line. His cell culture technique was filmed in 1963 and broadcast internationally. Dr. Grace made priceless contributions to in vitro biology with the development of his famous “Grace’s Tissue Culture Medium.” Many fields in cell biology have benefited from Grace’s Medium. Between 1960 and 1990 Dr. Grace won many awards, and he was recognized by many countries in addition to Australia, such as the U.S., Japan, Israel, UK, India and Czechoslovakia.
In order to recognize their specific tangible achievements Dr. Karl Maramorosch and Dr, Robert Granados convened a symposium: “Molecular Engineering and Biology of Invertebrate Cell Cultures: A tribute to Dr. Tom Grace and Professor Shangyin Gao” at the 11th International Conference on Invertebrate Cell and Tissue Culture, held in conjunction with the 2004 World Congress on In Vitro Biology. It was a significant honor to SIVB that Dr. Grace attended this symposium. He presented his historical 1963 film: “Insect Tissue Culture.” When Dr. Sandra Schneider, the president of SIVB presented the Lifetime Achievement Award Dr. Grace made his acceptance speech. SInce Professor Gao passed away 15 years ago, the award to Professor Gao was “In memorium” and presented to his family and Wuhan Institute of Virology, the institute he had founded.
Both Dr. Grace and Professor Gao were role models to the scientists and researchers in invertebrate research. To recognize them with the highest-level award has shown our respect and our decision to follow in Dr. Grace and Professor Gao’s footsteps.