Science Poetry

Enzyme Catalysis

“Inventive, reflective—
Marie Maynard Daly 
Seeks routes mechanistic
For enzymes and cells;
Goals realizing while
Paths catalyzing for 
Students to follow 
Through future, as well.”

The 16 April 2021 Twitter biography briefly recounted the story of Marie Maynard Daly (1921-2003), who was the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry in the USA.     

“Inventive, reflective— / 
Marie Maynard Daly /
Seeks routes mechanistic /
For enzymes and cells…”

Marie Maynard Daly completed her undergraduate work at Queens College and her master’s degree at New York University.  She then attended Columbia University to earn her doctorate degree, and her thesis was entitled “A Study of the Products Formed by the Action of Pancreatic Amylase on Corn Starch.”  Her dissertation research, completed in only three years, explored “routes mechanistic / [f]or enzymes,” as pancreatic amylase is an enzyme that can break down complex carbohydrates into glucose (sugar).  

Daly graduated from Columbia in 1947, then continued her biochemical research at multiple institutions: as a postdoctoral researcher at the Rockefeller Institute, then as a researcher and instructor at Columbia University, and ultimately as a faculty member at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she taught for more than 25 years.  Her insights were widespread: investigating protein synthesis and illustrating the harmful effects of cholesterol, among many other studies.    

“Goals realizing while / 
Paths catalyzing for /
Students to follow /
Through future, as well.”

A catalyst can speed the rate of a chemical reaction by lowering its activation energy: the energetic barrier that must be overcome for a reaction to proceed.  An enzyme is a catalyst for a biochemical reaction, specifically.

Daly established a scholarship at Queens College in memory of her father, who had also studied chemistry but was unable to complete his degree due to lack of financial support. These last few lines thus highlight the way in which Daly helped students along their paths to graduation, breaking down barriers: “paths catalyzing for / students to follow / through future, as well.”