Martin Rodbell

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Baltimore, Maryland
Birth Sign
Baltimore, Maryland

Martin Rodbell was an American biochemist and molecular endocrinologist who, together with Alfred G. Gilman, shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1994. Despite his parents’ wishes for him to pursue medicine, he graduated from John Hopkins University with a bachelor’s degree in biology and a doctorate from Washington University in Seattle. Following that, he joined the National Institute of Health and began his career as a researcher at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, after two years of postdoctoral work at the University of Illinois. He started working on lipoproteins here and was able to identify five distinct proteins. But he soon left this field to research hormone actions in isolated cells. Following that, he began working on’signal transduction,’ which led to the discovery of G-protein, after being inspired by Sutherland’s hypothesis of’second messenger.’ He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this achievement. He was a nice and friendly human being in addition to being an exceptional scientist. Later in life, he interacted with children and encouraged them to pursue fundamental research. He emphasized that one does not need to be privileged or extraordinary to make significant scientific contributions.

Childhood and Adolescence

Martin Rodbell was born to a Jewish family in Baltimore, Maryland on December 1, 1925. Milton Rodbell, his father, was a grocer. Shirley (née Abrams) Rodbell was his mother’s name. He had a sister and a brother. Rodbell began his studies in a public school setting. Later, he transferred to Baltimore City College, a magnet high school that admitted only the most talented pupils from the city and placed a greater emphasis on languages than science.

As a result, he became interested in languages, particularly French. Simultaneously, his connection with two local lads sparked a strong interest in chemistry and mathematics in him. Finally, in 1943, he graduated from high school and enrolled at John Hopkins University, where he studied chemistry and French existential literature. As a Jew, he soon realized that resisting Hitler should be his first concern. As a result, he enlisted in the US Navy as a radio operator in 1944.

In the South Pacific, his Corp was mostly engaged with the Japanese. During this time, he got the opportunity to connect with natives in the Philippines, Korea, and China who were living in difficult circumstances. According to him, this helped him develop a “healthy regard for the human situation.” He returned to John Hopkins University in 1946 after being discharged from the military. Despite his father’s wishes for him to study medicine, he preferred French. Professor Bentley Glass’ excitement caught his attention as he was going through this issue, and he recommended him to pursue a career in biochemistry.

As a result, he decided to focus in biology, but he had to take an additional year of advanced chemistry because he had not studied it previously. In 1949, he earned his bachelor’s degree in biology. He then went to the University of Washington in Seattle, where he began his dissertation research on the production of lecithin in the rat liver, earning his PhD in 1954.

Career of Martin Rodbell

Rodbell began working as a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign in 1954, shortly after receiving his PhD. Under Herbert E. Carter’s supervision, he worked on the biosynthesis of the antibiotic chloramphenicol. In 1956, his fellowship tenure came to an end. Rodbell had realized by this point that he was not fit out for an academic career and that his strong suit was research.

As a result, he accepted a research biochemist post at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland. It was a part of the National Institutes of Health, and Rodbell worked there until 1994, when he retired. He started working on lipoproteins on the surface of chylomicrons at this point. He identified at least five different proteins using a newly discovered ‘fingerprinting’ technique. Much later, it was discovered that these proteins had a significant role in lipoprotein-related illnesses.

In 1960, he chose to resume his original cell biology studies. Fortunately, he was awarded a fellowship, allowing him to enroll at the University of Brussels. He picked up a lot of new skills there. He was particularly intrigued by an ultrathin x-ray film technology for recording the localisation of tritium-labeled molecules inside cells.

Later, he moved to Leiden, Netherlands, to work in the laboratory of Dr. Peter Gaillard, a pioneer in cell culturing techniques. He received training in assessing the uptake of tritium-labeled chylomicrons using cultured cardiac cells.
Rodbell returned to the United States and joined the NIH’s Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases’ Nutrition and Endocrinology laboratory. He started working on fat cells here and discovered that when collagenase digests the tissue matrix, these cells are freed.

Later, he found a method for separating and purifying these cells without affecting their structure. In 1963, he was visited by Bernardo Houssay, who piqued his interest in the effects of hormones on isolated cells. Rodbell got to work on it right away. In an essay titled ‘The Metabolism of Isolated Fat Cells,’ he presented the results of his studies in 1964. It was acclaimed as one of the most important studies in endocrinology during the 1960s and 1970s by the scientific community.

Earl W. Sutherland gave a lecture in 1965 about the’second messenger’ theory of hormone activity. Sutherland proposed that the ‘initial messenger,’ a hormone, does not enter a cell. Rather, it operates on the cell’s surface, activating a mechanism he calls “second messenger.” The second messenger is responsible for carrying out the hormone’s command.

Rodbell was interested by it, as were many other biochemists, and his focus shifted to the cyclic AMP paradigm. In the meantime, he traveled to Geneva in 1967 to fill in for Albert E. Renold at the Institut de Biochimie Clinique while Renold was on leave. He studied the impact of hormones on ion and amino acid translocations in fat cell ghosts at the University of Geneva. In 1968, he returned to the United States and began working on signal transmission with rat liver membrane cells. He quickly saw parallels between computers and biological creatures.

A biological organism, he believed, has a cell receptor that receives information from outside the cell, a cell transducer that processes this information across the cell membrane, and an amplifier that amplifies these signals to initiate reactions within the cell or to transmit information to other cells, just like computers.

While the roles of the cell receptor and amplifier were well understood, the cell transducer remained a mystery. Rodbell determined that guanosine triphosphate was the main component of the transducer in 1970. (GTP).
He went on to show that GTP stimulated the guanine nucleotide protein (later known as G-protein), which is found in the cell membrane. He also claimed that the “second messenger” process proposed by Earl W. Sutherland was activated G-protein.

Rodbell was relocated to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at the National Institutes of Health in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, in 1985 as the Scientific Director. He worked there until 1994, when he retired. In the meanwhile, from 1991 to 1998, he worked as an Adjunct Professor of Cell Biology at Duke University. He was also an Adjunct Professor of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill for a short time.

Major Projects of Martin Rodbell

Rodbell is most known for his contributions to’signal transduction’ and the discovery of G-protein. He discovered that the G-protein, which is found in the cell membrane, is the major factor in the transduction process. Later, he discovered that adding G-proteins to the cell receptor may both inhibit and activate transmission. By doing so, he demonstrated that cellular receptors can handle many operations at the same time.

Achievements & Awards

Martin Rodbell was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1994 for “discovery of G-proteins and their involvement in signal transmission in cells.” He was awarded the prize alongside Alfred G. Gilman, who had researched on the same issue independently about the same time. In addition, in 1984, he earned the Gairdner Foundation International Award, and in 1987, he got the Richard Lounsbery Award.

Personal History and Legacy

Rodbell married Barbara Charlotte Ledermann in 1950. Margot Frank, Ann Frank’s (the famed diarist) sister, was a friend of hers. Charlotte was able to obtain an Aryan I Card through her contacts in the Dutch Underground and survive Auschwitz, despite the fact that her parents and sister were gassed to death. Paul, Suzanne, Andrew, and Phillip were the couple’s four children.

Rodbell began to suffer from cardiovascular illness near the end of his life. Despite this, he was a very active person. He gave the first NIEHS Rodbell Lecture on November 16, 1998. He was admitted to the hospital the next day and died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on December 7, 1998.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Martin Rodbell is not available.


Rodbell received the news that he had won the Nobel Prize over the phone from a representative of the Swedish Academy. It was 6 a.m. in the United States at the time, and he was deep sleeping in his daughter’s home in Bethesda. So all he could reply when asked if he was ready to receive the reward was, “Do you think I should accept?” He should, according to the representative, so he said, “OK, I accept.”