Peter Agre (2nd from right) with 5 other US 2003 Nobel laureates with President G. W. Bush
30 January 1949 |
Northfield, Minnesota, USA
|Alma mater||Augsburg College, Johns Hopkins University, Case Western Reserve University|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize in Chemistry|
Peter Agre (pronunciation: //) (born January 30, 1949) is an American physician, professor, and molecular biologist who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (which he shared with Roderick MacKinnon) for his discovery of aquaporins. Aquaporins are water-channel proteins that move water molecules through the cell membrane. In 2009, Agre was elected president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). He is currently a professor at Johns Hopkins University.
Agre was born in Northfield, Minnesota, to a Norwegian American father and a mother of Swedish and Norwegian descent. Agre is a Lutheran. He received his B.A. from Augsburg College in Minneapolis and his M.D. in 1974 from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. From 1975 to 1978 he completed his clinical training in Internal Medicine at Case Western Reserve University's Case Medical Center under Charles C.J. Carpenter. He served as the Vice Chancellor for science and technology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, where he guided the development of Duke's biomedical research. Agre leads the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMRI). Agre became director at JHMRI and joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health on January 1, 2008. He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 2000 and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2003. He is also a founding member of Scientists and Engineers for America (SEA).
Agre is known among science students for his humanity and humility. One of the reasons he gives for this is the grade of "D" Agre received in his first chemistry class, despite having a father who was a chemistry professor. He also notes that his prize-winning research was originally an investigation of the molecular identity of the human blood Rh factor, and his initial discovery of aquaporins was purely serendipitous. He appeared on The Colbert Report, discussing SEA, sound science in politics, and the decline of American knowledge of science, among other topics.
Aquaporins are "the plumbing system for cells," said Agre. Every cell is primarily water. "But the water doesn’t just sit in the cell, it moves through it in a very organized way. The process occurs rapidly in tissues that have these aquaporins or water channels."
For 100 years, scientists assumed that water leaked through the cell membrane, and some water does. "But the very rapid movement of water through some cells was not explained by this theory," said Agre.
Agre said he discovered aquaporins "by serendipity." His lab had an N.I.H. grant to study the Rh blood group antigen. They isolated the Rh molecule but a second molecule, 28 kilodaltons in size (and therefore called 28K) kept appearing. At first they thought it was a piece of the Rh molecule, or a contaminant, but it turned out to be an undiscovered molecule with unknown function. It was abundant in red blood cells and kidney tubes, and related to proteins of diverse origins, like the brains of fruit flies, bacteria, the lenses of eyes, and plant tissues.
Agre asked John Parker, his hematology professor at the University of North Carolina. Parker said, “Boy, this thing is found in red cells, kidney tubes, plant tissues; have you considered it might be the long-sought water channel?” So Agre said that he followed up Parker's suggestion. If aquaporin could be manipulated, it could potentially solve medical problems such as fluid retention in heart disease and brain edema after stroke.
Political activism 
Agre defended Thomas C. Butler, a plague researcher from Texas Tech University who voluntarily reported to the university safety office that 30 vials of plague bacteria were missing and had probably been autoclaved. Butler cooperated with FBI agents, who accused him of lying and arrested him. When Butler refused to plead guilty, federal prosecutors charged him with other charges, some of them unrelated, and he was convicted in a jury trial, lost his medical license, and served 2 years in prison.
In addition to being a founding member of Scientists and Engineers for Change, Agre was one of 48 Nobel laureates who signed a letter endorsing Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry for president.
Agre criticized many policies of the Bush Administration. "The Bush administration has been a disaster for the environment. They're playing Russian roulette by not signing the Kyoto Accord. If we wait until there's unequivocal proof that this is the cause of global climate change, it will be too late," he said.
Agre signed the "Stockholm Memorandum".
2008 Senate race 
Agre would emphasize health care and environmental issues rather than the Iraq war. He said, "The issues that were important to us at the millennium are still important today." He also feels that the US Senate could benefit from the perspective of a medical scientist. Then on August 29 he announced that he would not enter the race for the Senate seat, calculating his chances of success with a late start to obtain the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party endorsement against the huge personal cost and the termination of his federally-funded scientific research program and humanitarian service. An advocate for increased representation of science in government, he would not rule out the possibility of seeking public office in the future.
On 31 August 2007, an editorial article written by Agre appeared in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. In it, he formally withdrew himself from consideration for the US Senate race of 2008, and presented a historical review of select Minnesotans who contributed to human advancement, science and medicine. He excluded his own seminal contribution to the understanding of how water moves across our cells—something scientists had debated for a century.
Agre issued a call for a "...new century of science". In this editorial he highlighted the paucity of scientists in Congress. He also contemplated the fact that both Germany and China have leaders who are trained research scientists (Germany: Angela Merkel, PhD, Physical Chemistry; China: Hu Jintao, Hydraulic Engineer).
There has never been a Nobel Science Prize winner in the U.S. Senate. Nor has there ever been a Nobel Prize winner elected Governor in the United States.
See also 
- Karl Grandin, ed. (2003). "Peter Agre Biography". Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-07-29.
- "Nobel Laureate Peter Agre to Lead Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute". Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2008-07-16.
- "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
- Lupton, Neil (2005). "Scouts-L Youth Group List". Listerv. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
- Daniel, Douglass K. (2004). "Scouter Peter Agre Places a Nobel Prize Alongside His Eagle Award (with photo of both)". Scouting Magazine. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
- "Distinguished Eagle Scout Award Profile - Dr. Peter Agre". Eagletter 32 (3): 8–9. Winter 2006.
- McGregor, Steve (2005). "Nobel Laureate to Pitch Science as Fun". U. of Texas - Dallas. Retrieved 2006-06-01.
- P. Agre, (2008, May 2), lecture presented in Cellular Biology, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD.
- A Conversation With Peter Agre: Using a Leadership Role to Put a Human Face on Science, By Claudia Dreifus, New YorkTimes, January 26, 2009
- "In Support of Thomas C. Butler". Federation of American Scientists. 2006-09-14. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
- Plagued by Fear Cleveland Plain Dealer series
- Scheck, Tom (2004-10-04). "Nobel winner says Bush is politicizing science". Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved 2008-06-22.
- "Nobel Prize-winning scientist considers challenging Coleman". Minnesota Public radio. 2007-05-18. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
- "Nobel-winning scientist won't run for Senate". Minnesota Public Radio. 2007-08-29. Retrieved 2007-08-30.
- Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute
- Bringing Health Research to the Renewed U.S.-Myanmar Relationship, June 2012, Science & Diplomacy
- Johns Hopkins Media Story on his Nobel prize
- Nobel citation
- Agre Nobel Prize lecture
- Nobel laureate: Gov't, science research clash post September 11 The Daily Cardinal
- Webpage at Duke
- Coverage of October 21, 2005 speech by The Chronicle, Duke's student newspaper
- Video interview with Stephen Colbert October 19, 2006
- (Italian) Video intervista a Peter Agre su Asia.it