Wieland Gevers 2000


Wieland Gevers was born on the 9th October 1937 at Piet Retief, in the then province  of Transvaal. He received his school education at Nigel High School and completed the MB  ChB degree at the University of Cape Town in 1960 (first class Honours, distinction in all four professional examinations). He then joined Oxford University where he received the BA (Hons), the MA, and the DPhil degrees, all in Biochemistry, between  1960 and 1966.
From the early beginnings of his scientific career he focused on rather central issues in the field of Biochemistry, frequently in the company  of pioneering giants on the early international  scene. His D Phil from Oxford University was supervised by the renowned Sir Hans Krebs, who first discovered the tricarboxylic acid cycle (Krebs  Cycle),  which soon assumed central importance in energy metabolism.
During his time at Oxford, Wieland provided direct experimental evidence for "futile cycling" of carbon between fructose-six-phosphate and fructose-one, six-bisphosphate in liver systems and postulated, with Eric Newsholme, that apparently futile cycling might be a general metabolic mechanism for the physiological enhancement of control at key metabolic points, at the expense of ATP hydrolysis.
As a Helen A Whitney Fellow in the laboratory  of Fritz Lipmann at the Rockefeller University USA (1969-1970), working with H Kleinkauf, Gevers elucidated the non-ribosomal "enzyme-template" mechanism for the biosynthesis of  peptide antibiotics, which uses thioesters of amino acids as activation steps.
Back in South Africa at the  University  of Stellenbosch from 1971-1979,  a  number  of clinically important projects on different aspects of muscle biology were  studied.   A  provocative analysis of proton generation in ischaemic heart muscle has been much cited, and an observation of fundamental importance was made together with PA Jones and O Constantinides, in relation to the formation of functional striated muscle cells in fibroblast cultures treated with azacytidine. The production of a profuse extracellular matrix  of defined composition in tissue culture dishes, by cultures of aortic smooth muscle cells, was documented.
Since 1978, Professor Gevers has worked at UCT, inter a/ia with T Resink, on specific protein phosphorylation events in working rat heart muscle treated with beta-adrenergic drugs: this led to a still controversial model to explain positive inotropism occurring simultaneously with positive chrono­ tropism. Work with F Ismail produced the charac­ terization of a neutral cytoplasmic protease  which has more recently become known as the multi­ catalytic high molecular weight protease of ubiquitin-dependent and -independent pathways for intracellular protein degradation. Inactivating auto­ ubiquitination of ubiquitin-activating enzymes in chicken muscle was described with J Arnold.
Together with DR van der Westhuyzen and GA Coetzee and many other colleagues and PhD students, an extensive programme of research has been conducted for over a decade on low density lipoprotein (LDL) receptors and natural mutants, causing familial hypercholesterolaemia and heart disease in South Africans.
This work inter a!ia revealed for the first time:
• That lysosomal degradation of an endocytosed specific protein is catalysed by a, set of specific cathepsin  D-catalysed  "nicking" steps;
• That a process (named retroendocytosis by the group) returned cell-surface receptors and their ligands to the surface of cells after endocytosis, without traversing the late endosomes, lysosomes or related intracellular structures;
• That limited proteolysis by a number of proteases cleaved apoB into a "quartet" of segments, an observation later built up during the determination of the complete structure of this important plasma protein;
• That the turnover of normal LDL receptors does not depend on internalization into endosomal or lysosomal structures and is likely to be a cell-surface event (greatly
• slowed by cycloheximide-induced inhibition of protein synthesis);
• That the most common mutations causing familial hypercholesterolaemia in South Africa (FH-1, FH-3) are associated with specific cellular defects of LDL receptor maturation: "slow processing" in the first case, and "excessively rapid turnover" in the second;
• That LDL receptors are not responsible for the post-prandial clearance of chylomicrons in human subjects given fatty meals.
As an academic and research leader, Wieland Gevers has filled several important positions within the South African Tertiary  Education  sector.  In 1971 he was appointed Professor of Medical Biochemistry in the University of Stellenbosch Medical School, a position that he held until 1977. During the same period he also directed the US-MRC Research Unit for Molecular and Cellular Cardiology (SUMED). In 1978 he moved to the University of Cape Town Medical School, where he  was appointed Professor of Medical Biochemistry (a position he still holds). Since 1988 he was also Director of the UCT-MRC Research Unit for the Cell Biology of Atherosclerosis.
Prof Gevers has published prolifically in the fields of medicine and biochemistry. Since 1959 a total in excess of 125 journal articles and chapters in books has emanated from his research efforts.
In addition to his contributions to biochemical education and research in South Africa, Wieland Gevers has also played a pivotal role in the development of biochemistry as a well-recognised discipline in Southern Africa. During the early seventies, he was instrumental in consolidating the previously rather scattered  biochemical  community in the country, under one umbrella, with  the formation of the South African Biochemical Society (now the South African  Society  for  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) of which he became Founder President (1974-1976). For many years he ably represented the SA biochemical community at the international umbrella body, which  is  the International Union for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. As chairman of the earlier FRO evaluation committee for biochemistry, and as a member of the Medical Research Council (1990-3), Prof Gevers has also been a champion of the promotion of the discipline of Biochemistry.
In recent years his exceptional administrative and organisational skills have moved Wieland  Gevers into positions of much wider responsibility.  In 1990 he became Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town and in 1992 Deputy Vice­ Chancellor. He is presently the Senior Deputy Vice­ Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, a position which implies much added responsibility at the present time, and in which he directly supports the Vice-Chancellor in running the University.
Most recently, Prof Gevers has also made other critically important contributions to the future  of Higher Education in South Africa. He  has  served with distinction on various bodies of the  South African Vice-Chancellor's Association (SAUVCA), such as the Education Committee. As the university sector's lone representative on the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) he has had single­ handedly to convince SAQA  with  regard  to important issues· affecting South African university qualifications and their international competitive­ ness. He managed to secure  a better dispensation for South African universities through his intellect, knowledge of the HE system and powers of persuasion. The entire university  community  in South Africa is greatly indebted to  him  for  his tireless efforts in pursuit of their best interests in the new NQF dispensation.
Throughout his career Prof Gevers has served with distinction in numerous important positions  other than those already mentioned. These include his membership of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, President of the SA Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (two terms), President of the Royal Society of South Africa and President of the Academy of Science of South Africa (1998 - ). In recognition of his outstanding services he has received numerous awards and fellowships which include the following:
University Gold Medal for  the  most distinguished graduate in Medicine at UCT and the Sir Robert Kotze Scholarship for the most distinguished graduate at UCT (1960); the Rhodes Scholarship (1962-1965); t)le Oettle Medal for Cancer Research (1979);  Silver Medal, South African Medical Research Council (1990); Academic Award of the MRC for most outstanding publications by a Research Unit during 1986-1988 (1991);  Wellcome  Gold Medal for medical research (1991); Microsep Gold Medal of the SA Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1994); Fellowship of the Royal Society of South Africa (1979-);  Life Fellow of the University of Cape Town (1984-); Sir Ernest Oppenheimer University Travel Fellowship (1984).
The University of Port Elizabeth wishes to honour Professor Wieland Gevers with an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of his distinguished services to the scientific community in RSA as Educator, Researcher and Administrator of renown, and to the South African Higher Education system in general as a champion of the preservation of its most treasured values.