JUDA HIRSCH QUASTEL 2 October 1899—15 October 1987 Elected F.R.S. 1940 BY F.C. MACINTOSH, F.R.S., AND T.L. SOURKES EARLY YEARS JUDA HIRSCH QUASTEL, who contributed for more than 60 years to the growth of biochemistry, was bom in Sheffield, in a room over his father’s rented sweet shop on the Ecclesall Road. The date was 2 October 1899, and his parents, Jonas and Flora (Itcovitz) Quastel, had lived in England for only a few years. They had emigrated separately from the city of Tamopol in eastern Galicia, which was then within the Austro-Hungarian Empire; it has since, after a period under Polish rule, become part of the Ukrainian Republic of the Soviet Union. Tamopol at the end of the 19th century was a city of some 30 000 and the centre of an agricultural district. Its inhabitants were ethnically mixed, but about half of them were Jews, many of whom under the relatively benevolent Austrian regime were fairly prosperous. Quastel used to recall how his father and grandfather had held the Emperor Franz Joseph in great respect. His grandfather, also Juda Hirsch (married to Yetta Rappo port), had at one time worked as a chemist in a brewery laboratory in Tamopol. The parents of the subject of this biography had been in commerce there, and were not poor; but today’s family members know little about the life of Jonas and Flora in Tamopol, or about the reasons that persuaded them, like many of their neighbours, to emigrate to the West. An uncle had already gone to England, and perhaps had encouraged them to follow because of the greater opportunities. In England they lived at first in London’s east end, where they worked in garment factories; but their move to Sheffield, and to Jonas’s modest entrepre neurship, had been completed in the late 1890s. It was there that Juda Hirsch and his four younger siblings (Charles, Doris, Hetty and Anne) were bom.
382 Biographical Memoirs Quastel’s childhood was a happy one in spite of the family’s somewhat straitened circumstances. He writes about it with affection when he responded in his old age to the invitations of several biochemical editors to tell the story of his life and work. The four autobiographical sketches (65,66,74,75)* that resulted from these invitations are all highly readable. They overlap a good deal: with the permission of his editors Quastel often transferred whole passages from a previous sketch to a new one. In what follows his ‘Brief autobiography’ (74) is quoted freely; many of the passages can also be found in the later expansion of that history (75). Apart from periodically revised curricula vitae and annotated lists of what he judged to be his most significant papers, he prepared no autobiographical material for the Royal Society.
Juda Hirsch Quastel 383 He made other friends at elementary school, learned quickly and was curious about the city around him. He has recalled the excitement of weekly visits from an itinerant science teacher, and of peering through factory doors to watch molten steel being poured from Bessemer furnaces. By the age of nine, chemistry had become ‘of all things I wanted to learn about the subject I had most at heart. It was so then and it is so now’ (74).
384 Biographical Memoirs very nose, and I was duly given “ 100 lines” - to write two lines of Shakespeare 100 times - and even now I can remember him chastising me, but not in an unkind or bullying waybut rather in a quiet philosophical manner, regretting that I had incurred his displeasure. I think that attitude persisted throughout his life; he was never aggressive, always dispassionate and even kindly in argument. In that same winter the Shakespeare Society of the school played King Richard III, and Q played the Lord Mayor of London; I, being the smallest boy in the school played one of the Princes so I saw a lot of Q, now almost as a colleague. Costumes came from London a day or so before the play began, and there was great consternation when it was discovered that nothing had been sent for him, but, equipped with one of the Master’s gowns, and with a chain of office made from a curtain chain, he looked just as imposing as our local Lord Mayor.
Juda Hirsch Quastel 385 help run a bacteriological and pathological laboratory and to help Donaldson in his many post-mortem examinations. I saw the dead and the wounded of the war for the first time and I learned how easy it was to make false diagnoses on too little data. I was kept in the hospital, under Donaldson, who seemed to have considerable influence, through 1918, owing to the difficulty of finding a suitable replacement for the pathological laboratory. One of the workers in the laboratory was Ann Barbara Clark, who taught me much of microbiological techniques. We became good friends, discussing many things including her plans to go to Cambridge eventually. This was the first time that I had heard of Cambridge as a place to go for research in the field of microbiological research. I knew it was beyond my means ever to go there, but Miss Clark urged me to think about it.
386 Biographical Memoirs from the culture media. I then turned my attention to succinic acid and found it disappeared only slowly in the presence of growing organisms that disposed of fumarate rapidly. These results introduced me at once to the problems of succinate metabolism - a line of work that I followed for a long time. Little did I realize how important these problems were to become in later years. At any rate, what few results I had, at the time, helped me to obtain an 1851 Senior Exhibition and once again I had something to live on and to repay my debt. This came almost miraculously at a time when I seriously thought of quitting research work . But as fate would have it, I not only succeeded in obtaining the scholarship, but just as important I soon discovered why fumarate disappeared so quickly with certain growing organisms; it was being converted rapidly to pyruvate. It was about this time I realised how much I owed to Hopkins. When things looked most hopeless, he would be so encouraging and sympathetic that I felt I just dare not abandon the work. He suggested no new ideas or techniques or plans, but engendered the feeling that with patience, persistence and some originality of thought I would get over this difficult period.
Juda Hirsch Quastel 387 with the aid of the methylene blue technique now established that fumaric acid is converted to pymvic acid, already known as a product of yeast fermentation and as the precursor of ethanol (1,2). Moreover, the fumaric acid was formed from succinic acid in a reversible enzyme-catalysed reaction (2), and yielded oxaloacetic acid, which was then converted to pymvic (2). Quastel’s bacterial preparation was made by a procedure that removed readily oxidizable endogenous substrates without seriously affecting the dehydrogenases. These so-called ‘resting cells’ (now termed ‘washed cell suspensions’) were first described by A. Harden and S. Zilva (1915) somewhat earlier for the study of E. coli. According to Marjory Stephenson (1949) the methylene blue technique was first applied extensively to bacteria by Quastel and Whetham, who studied many other organisms prepared in this way (2,4), but ultimately settled on E. coli as the most useful for this type of work.
388 Biographical Memoirs in fact, it proved to be a quite general phenomenon, malonate having this effect on SDH of other microbial organisms than Escherichia coli (7), as well as on the enzyme of animal tissues (15), and inhibiting under aerobic as well as anaerobic conditions (Cook 1930). The effect was backed up at the same time by a similar phenomenon with lactate dehydrogenase. In this case prominent inhibitory action was exerted by oxalic acid (12). Perhaps the most significant factor was that in his classic text on enzymes, J. B. S. Haldane (1930) referred to Quastel’s work, but not to the C0/02 antagonism. This omission is surprising because Haldane had already published on CO toxicity and had cited Warburg’s paper; and Keilin was his scientific neighbour at Cambridge. Quastel later recalled that the reception of his ideas on bacterial metabolism in the Department was mild, except by J.B.S. Haldane, ‘[t]he only person who seemed really interested . [and] whose very considerable intellectual ability and extraordinarily retentive memory made discussions with him most enjoyable and fruitful’ (65).