IUBMB-Nicholson Metabolic Maps, Minimaps & Animaps
Donald Nicholson was born in 1916 and graduated in Chemistry in 1936, followed by a Ph.D of London University in 1940. He spent the the war years as a chemist in a large pharmaceutical firm where he developed the production of the first synthetic antibacterial drugs, sulphonamides. In 1946 he went to the Bacteriology Department of the Medical School at Leeds as an ICI Research Fellow in Chemotherapy
Here he was involved in the teaching of Bacterial Metabolism at the historic time when bacteria were being largely used to determine the chemical nature of genetics and of life itself, leading to the elucidation of DNA. As more pathways of metabolism were being discovered, he realised the importance of integrating them by putting the pieces together to complete the jigsaw. For five years he hand-drew Metabolic Pathways Charts and had them “blue-printed” in the Architect’s office. The first printed copies appeared in 1960 and received an enthusiastic reception by some of the best- known biochemists of the time, including Hans Krebs. Since then 22 editions and over a million copies have aimed to keep up to date with their rapid evolution.
At the age of 80 he bought a computer and the first “Minimaps” were created. These show smaller, individual, pathways which include additional factors such as co-enzymes, regulation and cellular compartmentation. Being of “page” size, the minimaps have proved a valuable and popular format for the internet and available freely throughout the world.
Dr. Nicholson then worked on what he regarded as the most exciting development of all his work—”Animaps”. These show the movements of molecules into their exact positions to align with the active sites of their enzymes prior to reaction. The animaps also show the detailed movements of bonds and electrons which is a characteristic of chemical reactions—hitherto largely interpreted in textual publications by curly arrows.
In 1996, Nicholson gave the copyright for his metabolic maps to the International Union of Biochemistry. An agreement with the biochemicals manufacturer Sigma-Aldrich, now MilliporeSigma, secured the future of the maps and provided travel grants for trainees.
In recognition of his work, Donald Nicholson has been awarded an Honorary D.Sc. and has been made one of only two Special Life Members of the IUBMB.
Donald Nicholson died on 12 May 2012 (obituary).