Taylor’s career began as a detour through medical school

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Susan taylorThe career of spans over 50 years of groundbreaking research, accolades and achievements. But she never intended to go this route.

Susan taylor

As a freshman at the University of Wisconsin, Taylor dreamed of becoming a doctor. Charles Sorum, his chemistry teacher, solidified his foundations in the field. “It was a big influence in my life and inspired me to major in chemistry, although it was an unconventional choice for a woman in the 1960s,” Taylor said.

In his senior year, Taylor’s fiance accepted a job at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Missing the Johns Hopkins Medical School deadline, she applied to Hopkins Graduate School, where she completed doctoral research in lipids with Edward Heath and became a biochemist.

“I always had my heart on medical school,” Taylor said. “However, my husband accepted a position in Cambridge, England, so I decided to wait… a few more years.”

As a post-doctoral fellow with Brian hartley At the Molecular Biology Lab, Taylor found his life calling – protein chemistry and structural biology – and put his medical school plans aside for good.

“My two years at Cambridge taught me to think of science across disciplines and to approach research problems as an interdisciplinary challenge,” she said.

Taylor returned to the United States as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at San Diego, where she remained and is now a Distinguished Professor in two departments: Chemistry and Biochemistry and Pharmacology.

For his research excellence and contributions to the scientific community, Taylor will receive the 2022 Herbert Tabor Research Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

A passionate advocate for interdisciplinary science, particularly for training the next generation of scientists, Taylor is particularly conscientious in recruiting and mentoring under-represented students.

She looks back with fondness on her professional career.

“I have been fortunate to collaborate with so many creative scientists from various disciplines,” she said. “Over the years, we have supported and learned from each other. “

Fascination with a signaling molecule

When Susan Taylor was a postdoctoral fellow at the Young University of California at San Diego, her advisor, Nathan Kaplan, introduced him to cAMP-dependent protein kinase, or PKA, a signaling molecule that regulates glycogen, lipid metabolism and many other things in cells.

“I became fascinated with this highly allosteric enzyme and decided to characterize it further,” Taylor said. She and PKA have become lifelong partners.

In his own lab, Taylor has led studies that have elucidated the structure and function of PKA. Following the identification of active site residues in the catalytic and regulatory subunits, she and her collaborators resolved the structure of the C subunit of PKA in 1991 – the first protein kinase structure. She then solved structures of higher complexity, resulting in functionally non-redundant full-length holoenzymes.

Unraveling the dynamics and allosteric signaling and demonstrating how these correlate with disease phenotypes has been an ongoing topic in the Taylor lab. More recently, using high resolution imaging of the retina and brain, she further defined isoform specificity and, in particular, focused on the previously uncharacterized Cb isoform, which accounts for approximately 50% of PKA signaling in the brain.


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