MDI lab receives $1 million gift

Posted Sept. 06, 2012, at 7:38 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Buildings aren’t the only thing growing at Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

Thanks to an anonymous donor, the biomedical research lab’s science education programs also are getting a boost.

MDI Bio Lab announced last week that it has received a $1 million gift from a donor who does not want to be identified to establish a fellowship named after a former local summer resident. The James Slater Murphy, M.D., Fellowship will provide funding for “outstanding” high school, undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral students enrolled in a research training program at the lab, according to a prepared statement released by the lab.

Dr. Murphy was a distinguished virologist and faculty member at Rockefeller University who died in 2007 at the age of 85.

In the statement, MDI Bio Lab Director Kevin Strange said the lab is “deeply grateful” for the gift.

“We are honored that the fellowship connects the lab’s commitment to the training of a new generation of young scientists with the scientific legacy of the late Dr. Murphy, not only because of his pre-eminence as a physician scientist but because of his lifelong love for Mount Desert Island and the people of Maine,” Strange said.

Jerilyn Bowers, spokeswoman for the lab, said Thursday in an email that the gift will help reduce the lab’s dependence on federal funding for its educational programs.

“With shrinking federal budgets and increasing need, this gift ensures that MDIBL will continue to provide high-quality, hands-on research training to qualified students far into the future,” Bowers said. “One of our major federal grants has supported research training Maine high school students for the last three years. However, in 2013 funding can no longer be used to support high school students. The Murphy Fellowship eliminates the need to reduce the number of participants in our program.”

Bowers added that the fellowship will support between 8 and 10 students annually.

The fellowship will be awarded on a competitive basis beginning in early 2013. Initial awards will go to high school students looking to spend the summer working with an established scientist at the lab.

According to the lab, when Murphy was in high school he spent several summers working at The Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor as an intern. During World War II, he was an undergraduate at Princeton College for two years and then, after joining the Army, he attended medical school, first at Cornell and then Johns Hopkins universities. He received his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1945.

Over the next 10 years he completed a tour with the U.S. Chemical Corps, worked as a virologist at Johns Hopkins, and then as an assistant to Nobel Laureate John H. Northrop at a Rockefeller Institute laboratory at University of California, Berkeley, according to the lab statement. He took a position at Rockefeller University in 1955.

There, Murphy and his fellow Rockefeller researcher Lennart Philipson identified the enzyme that allows a virus to essentially “drill” through a cell wall so it can enter that cell and use its synthesizing mechanisms, according to the lab release. Murphy also was one of the first in his field, ahead of many younger scientists, to create computer-generated mathematical models to examine issues around cell division and the synthesis of cellular DNA.

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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