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Allen T. Phillips

Allen T. Phillips, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry, Penn State University

Dr. Phillips is Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State’s University Park Campus.  Prior to retiring in 2001, his research program focused on the enzymology, genetics, and physiological regulation of amino acid metabolism, particularly involving histidine, threonine, and glutamate, using microbial or tissue culture models for systems present in higher organisms.   These research areas were those studied by over 30 M.S. and Ph.D. graduate students, as well as postdoctoral and undergraduate researchers, all directed by Dr. Phillips.    As an outcome of their work, a new coenzyme (MIO) was identified in histidase and a novel mechanistic role discovered for a well-known coenzyme (NAD) in urocanase, both enzymes involved in the breakdown of histidine.  Also, histidine’s importance as a precursor of ergothioneine, a potentially important antioxidant in higher organisms, has gained more recognition by the close relationship between these two amino acids.  

Dr. Phillips obtained his Ph.D. in Biochemistry at Michigan State University in 1964, after which he joined the Dept. of Biochemistry at Louisiana State University as Assistant Professor until 1967 when he moved to Penn State University as Associate Professor of Biochemistry, being promoted to Professor in 1972.  Support for Dr. Phillips’ research was from NSF, NIH and non-federal sources for over 25 years and he was a Research Career Development Awardee from NIH for 5 years.  He was Editor of the Journal of Bacteriology for 5 years, an editorial board member of Applied and Environmental Microbiology for 17 years, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

Following his retirement, Dr. Phillips has continued to serve on MS and Ph.D. graduate thesis committees and maintains a research laboratory for training undergraduate biochemistry-oriented researchers.   These students get training experience by extending knowledge of histidine and ergothioneine metabolism at the molecular level in a variety of organisms.   Current areas include how cis-urocanate, a histidine metabolism by-product formed upon UV-B radiation of epidermal tissue, is subsequently metabolized once it is produced; why the buildup of imidazolone propionate (a histidine degradation intermediate) is toxic when the enzyme normally used for this purpose is absent; and a study of ergothioneine’s breakdown pathway in microorganisms.