James A. McCloskey, Jr.

Born: June 25, 1936 | San Antonio, TX, US
Died: Wednesday, August 30, 2017 | Helotes, TX, US

James A. McCloskey, Jr. , grew up in San Antonio, Texas. He entered Trinity University in San Antonio, where he majored in chemistry; he earned a PhD in analytical chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After fulfilling his ROTC commitment by working for the US Army Chemical Corps, McCloskey returned to Klaus Biemann's lab at MIT, where he began his lifelong interest in and study of nucleosides/nucleotides, necessitating different types of mass spectrometers. He turned down the Karolinska Institutet for a job at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He began a twenty-year collaboration with Susumu Nishimura in Tokyo, Japan, and made his first of many trips there. His lab discovered the nucleoside Q. He began his part of the search for the roots of the tree of life, which consists of bacteria, eukaryotes, and archaea. McCloskey spent six months of a sabbatical at the National Cancer Research Institute in Tokyo before going to the University of Utah as a visiting professor. He decided to accept a full professorship there. McCloskey became secretary, vice president, then president of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS). 

The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.

Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0702
No. of pages: 150
Minutes: 345

Interview Sessions

Michael A. Grayson
19-20 March 2012
McCloskey's home, Grey Forest, Texas

Abstract of Interview

James A. McCloskey, Jr. , grew up in San Antonio, Texas, an only child. His father, a doctor in the US Army Medical Corps, was the first regular army medical doctor killed in World War II, at which time James's name was changed from Robert. He attended public high school, where he was also in Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). It was always expected that he would attend college, and he entered Trinity University in San Antonio, where he majored in chemistry and continued in ROTC, paying his way with scholarships and with money he earned in summers. McCloskey realized that he would go nowhere with just a bachelor's degree, so he earned a PhD in analytical chemistry from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He fulfilled his ROTC commitment by working for the US Army Chemical Corps; he published his first paper there. He also married while in the Army and fathered a daughter while still at MIT. He returned to Klaus Biemann's lab at MIT, where he began his lifelong interest in and study of nucleosides/nucleotides, necessitating different types of mass spectrometers. After finishing his PhD, McCloskey persuaded the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to send him to Paris, France, for a year. He turned down the Karolinska Institutet for a job at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. At Baylor he continued his funding relationship with the NIH, getting a number of spectrometers for the College. He began a twenty-year collaboration with Susumu Nishimura in Tokyo, Japan, and made his first of many trips there. He learned the biology of tRNA; Pamela Crain began working for him; his lab discovered the nucleoside Q. He began his part of the search for the roots of the tree of life, which consists of bacteria, eukaryotes, and archaea. McCloskey spent six months of a sabbatical at the National Cancer Research Institute in Tokyo before going to the University of Utah as a visiting professor. He decided to accept a full professorship there, citing common interests, funding, and research freedom. Pamela Crain moved with him, continuing to collaborate on many papers. In addition to running his lab, heading the mass spec facility, and teaching, McCloskey became secretary, vice president, then president of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS). He continued collaborating with mostly scientists outside the United States, especially from Japan; his work was primarily with ribonuclease T1 and T2; he studied how organisms modify in reaction to increase in temperature and found that they also modify below freezing. McCloskey talks about his grants, all of which were approved by NIH and which remained constant; the different types of spectrometers and their uses; collision-induced dissociation (CID); polarity; importance of mass accuracy; his funding and funding in general; Carl Woese and the tree of life; synthesis of a new molecule he named archaeosine or G+; closing down his grants and lab when he retired and moved back to Texas; changes in the field of chemistry, in mass spec, and in students. He explains his editorship of Methods in Enzymology and his collaboration or lack thereof with several scientists the interviewer asks about. He laughs over the Prochaska scam. He modestly claims that his contribution to mass spectrometry was "not that great," meaning that he answered difficult questions in a narrow area. He has retired completely but remains interested in the field of chemistry, marveling at its sudden and rapid expansion. 

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1957 Trinity Univerisity BS Chemistry
1963 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Chemistry

Professional Experience

US Army

1959 to 1961
Chemist, United States Army Chemical Corps, Unites States Army Biological Laboratories, Fort Detrick, Maryland

Institut de Chimie des Substances Naturelles

1963 to 1964
Postdoctoral Fellow (National Institutes of Health)

Baylor College of Medicine

1964 to 1967
Assistant Professor of Chemistry
1967 to 1971
Associate Professor of Chemistry
1971 to 1974
Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Biochemistry in the Institute for Lipid Research and the Department of Biochemistry

University of Tokyo

1971 to 1972
Visiting Professor

National Cancer Center Research Institute

1971 to 1992
Visiting Investigator

University of Utah

1972
Visiting Professor, Departments of Chemistry and Biopharmaceutical Sciences
1976 to 2003
Director, Mass Spectrometry Facility
1976 to 2007
Professor of Biomedical Chemistry, Medicinal Chemistry, Department of Medicinal Chemistry
1976 to 2007
Adjunct Professor of Chemistry, Department of Chemistry
1993 to 1995
Director, Interdepartmental Biological Chemistry Program
2007 to 2013
Professor Emeritus, Departments of Medicinal Chemistry, Chemistry and Biochemistry

Honors

Year(s) Award
1972

National Institutes of Health Special Fellow, University of Utah

1989

Distinguished Research Award, University of Utah

2005

Award for Distinguished Contribution in Mass Spectrometry, American Society for Mass Spectrometry

2009

Fellow, Section on Chemistry, American Association for the Advacement of Science

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Spent two early years in Philippines. Grew up in San Antonio, Texas. Father, in US Army Medical Corps, first regular army medical doctor killed in World War II. Mother raised him alone. Contracted polio. Paternal grandfather judge, former US Congressman. Name changed from Robert to James after father's death. Roman Catholic grade school, public junior high and high school. US Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) in high school. College always expected.

College Years
4

Trinity University, small school in San Antonio, with only two chemistry teachers. Both influential; knew he needed graduate school. Scholarships. Summers working at American Lithium Chemicals, Inc. Continued ROTC.

Graduate School Years
9

Entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Spent two year ROTC commitment in Chemical Corps; published first paper. Returned to MIT a married man. Analytical chemistry in Klaus Biemann's lab. First child born. Fathered two sons and two daughters. Nucleosides/nucleotides. Types of mass spectrometers. Funding. Shift technique. Electron ionization. Volatility. Fast atom bombardment (FAB). American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), Section 14E. meeting Joe Franklin, Field, Burnaby Munson; learning used of electrospray from "oil men. " Changing focus to biological problems. CH5+ one of most famous ions in analytical chemistry.

First Job
32

Won National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to study in Paris at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). Six weeks at Karolinska Institutet. Accepted assistant professorship at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. Evan and Marjorie Hornung. Good at getting funding for spectrometers from NIH. Published good papers. Derivatives; silanes. Collaboration with Susumu Nishimura at National Cancer Center Research Institute (NCCRI), lasting twenty years. Many trips to Tokyo, Japan. Learned biology of RNA; worked thereafter with tRNA. Pamela Crain. Nucleoside Q. tree of life: bacteria, eurkaryotes, archaea. Karl Stetter and thermophiles. Structure/function. Six sabbatical months at University of Utah. Marvin Vestal. Funding almost exclusively from NIH Institute of General Medical Sciences.

Moving to Utah
59

Full professor at University of Utah after sabbatical in Japan. Research freedom; funding; common interests. Synthesis of nucleosides. Pamela Crain persuaded to move also; completes PhD in biochemistry at Utah. Took no grants or instruments; began with CEC110 and densitometer. Initial grant continued for thirty years. Teaching and administrative responsibilities. Secretary, then vice president, then president of American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS). Advantages of liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry with electrospray. Became director of University's mass spectrometer facility. Few graduate students. Collision-induced dissociation (CID). Polarity. Ribonuclease T1 and T2. Use of several types of spectrometers. Resolution less important; mass accuracy crucial. Collaborations mostly with people outside United States. General funding strictures. Never interested in industry. Students and postdocs. How self-protected organisms work; increase in complexity with increase in temperature.

General Topics
86

Thermophile work funded by NIH. No grants rejected; funding mostly constant. Never many scientists working in nucleosides/nucleotides. Carl Woese and tree of life; picture of Tree. Modifications of RNA unique to archaea; LC-MS good for analysis. New molecule named archaeosine or G+. Unique collection of nucleosides; given to colleagues upon his retirement. Archaea at low temperatures. Crain's collaborations most extensive. Antibiotic work in Isono's lab. Closing down grants and lab at retirement. Completely retired; moved back to Texas. Enjoys keeping up with field. Discussion of changes in science, students. Considered impact of his work "not that great" but found answers to difficult questions. Editor of Methods in Enzymology, continuing publication; much work. Hashezumi and cytokinins. Japanese system of retirement. Steven Pomerantz; Edmonds; Prochaska scam; Ronald Macfarlane; Klaus Biemann; wobble rule; tRNA.

Curriculum Vitae
147
Index
179

About the Interviewer

Michael A. Grayson

Michael A. Grayson is a member of the Mass Spectrometry Research Resource at Washington University in St. Louis. He received his BS degree in physics from St. Louis University in 1963 and his MS in physics from the University of Missouri at Rolla in 1965. He is the author of over 45 papers in the scientific literature. Before joining the Research Resource, he was a staff scientist at McDonnell Douglas Research Laboratory. While completing his undergraduate and graduate education, he worked at Monsanto Company in St. Louis, where he learned the art and science of mass spectrometry. Grayson is a member of the American Society for Mass Spectrometry (ASMS), and has served many different positions within that organization. He has served on the Board of Trustees of CHF and is currently a member of CHF's Heritage Council. He currently pursues his interest in the history of mass spectrometry by recording oral histories, assisting in the collection of papers, and researching the early history of the field.