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Wood, Harland Goff

(September, 2, 1907 — September 12, 1991)

Quick Facts

Iowa State College student, instructor and assistant professor at Iowa State, Fellow at University of Wisconsin, Madison, associate professor of physiological chemistry at the University of Minnesota, Professor and Director of the Biochemistry Department, and Emeritus Professor of Biochemistry at Case Western Reserve University, and internationally known scientist.


Harland G. Wood was born on September 2, 1907 at Delavan, Minnesota, a son of William Clark Wood and Inez Goff Wood. His academic career began inauspiciously when he flunked kindergarten, but in the years and decades that followed, he more than made up for that initial stumble by developing an astonishingly successful career in the field of biochemistry.

Wood remembered in later years that his high school Latin teacher and principal first sparked his interest in chemistry. After high school graduation, he attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, graduating in 1931 with a BA degree in chemistry. While at Macalester, he met Mildred Lenora Davis and married her on September, 14, 1929. They had three daughters, Donna, Beverly, and Louise.

Upon graduation from Macalester, Wood attended Iowa State College (now University) and earned a Ph.D degree in bacteriology in 1935. While at Iowa State, he worked under C.H. Werkman, who was investigating the chemistry of bacterial fermentations. Wood discovered CO2 fixation in heterotrophic organisms (animals, protozoans, fungi, and most bacteria) which had been previously believed to be possible only in autotrophs (such as land plants and algae.) Werkman was initially skeptical of Wood's findings as were most scientists at that time, but continued research proved the validity of Wood's discovery. With this discovery, Wood earned his PhD degree from Iowa State in 1935 and was offered a fellowship at the University of Wisconsin—Madison for one year in which he continued his research. He then returned to Iowa State and worked as an instructor and assistant professor until 1943. Wood then accepted a position at the University of Minnesota as associate professor of physiological chemistry and also continued his research there for three more years, especially studying pathways of glucose synthesis.

In 1946, Wood accepted a position as chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the School of Medicine of the Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, now Case Western Reserve University. He would work at Case Western Reserve during the remaining forty five years of his career. He retired as chairman in 1965 in order to devote more time in research. He served as Dean of Sciences from 1967 to 1969 and was the first University Professor from 1970-1978. From 1978 to his death in 1991, he was Professor Emeritus. During that time he built a national and then international reputation as a biochemist. His research work over they years focused on continuing study of CO2 fixation and the elucidation of metabolic pathways by the use of isotopes, peptide sequencing, electron microscopy and immunological techniques.

Wood brought in many new faculty members and reformed the curriculum at the medical school. He directed that all lab equipment be shared and directed that all honoraria from consulting, seminars, or study section work go into support for graduate students. His strong support for younger biochemists and lone investigators led many to refer to “The Wood Factor,” as responsible for much progress in biochemical research.

Wood's leadership was reflected in many other professional activities. He authored or co-authored more than 240 articles in professional journals between 1933 and 1993, including, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemistry Journal, Journal of Bacteriology, Biochemistry, Iowa State College Journal of Science, and Trends in Biochemical Sciences. Many of his collaborators and co-authors were distinguished in the field, such as his mentor, C.H. Werkman, and also Joseph Katz, Bernard R. Landau, and Feodor Lynen (the 1964 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine.) Altogether he co-authored articles in professional journals with at least 145 of his peers.

He was also very active in professional leadership. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Chemical Society, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Biochemical Society of Japan. He held the office of president of the American Society of Biological Chemists and also served as secretary and then president of the International Union of Biochemists. He served on the President's Scientific Advisory Committee under Presidents Johnson and Nixon. He was a council member, general secretary, and president of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He served as president of the Society of American Bacteriologists. He was on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemistry, and of Trends in Biochemical Science. He was chairman of the panel committee on growth of the National Research Council and served on the advisory council of the Life Insurance Medical Research Fund. When the Journal of Biological Chemistry published Classics and Reflections: Classics in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the Twentieth Century in 2005, it included Woods's ground breaking article “The Discovery of Heterotrophic Carbon Dioxide Fixation.”

Wood received twenty two honors and awards for his work, including the Distinguished Alumni Award of the ISU Alumni Association in 1989, the Eli Lilly Award, the Carl Neuberg Medal, the Lynen Lecture Medal, the Waksman Award, the Rosenstiel Award, the Michaelson-Morly Award, and the National Medal of Science. He held honorary degrees from Macalester College, Northwestern University, the University of Cincinnati, and Case Western Reserve University.

Wood remained active right up to his death on September 12, 1991. At that time, he held three grants from the National Institutes of Health and had published 96 papers since his retirement in 1978.

Selected Sources

All sources on Harland Goff Wood were found online, although most were originally produced in print.

Several main sources are from David A. Goldthwait, an associate of Wood's in the Department of Biochemistry and Medicine at Case Western Reserve University. Among Goldthwait's publications on Wood include Harland Goff Wood 1907-1991. Washington, D. C. National Academies Press, 1996, pp. 394-428; “Harland Wood—Active at 80,” The FASEB (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) Journal, Volume 1, Number 4, October, 1987, pp. 259-261; and “Harland Goff Wood 1907-1991,” Trends in Biochemical Sciences, Volume 17, Issue 2, February, 1992, pp. 52-53.

Besides Goldthwait's publications, see William J. Whelan, “Harland G. Wood,” International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Life, Volume 57, Number 4/5,pp. 221-222.

Wood's article reprinted in 2005, “The Discovery of Heterotrophic Carbon Dioxide Fixation,” was published in Classics & Reflections: Classics in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the 20th Century. Volume 1. American Society For Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 2005, pp. 155-157.

Basic career information by Case Western Reserve University is found online at

An oral interview with Goff by the Science History Institute Center for Oral History (Oral History 0082) is found at

Information on Wood's National Medal of Science award is found on

Information on Wood's Distinguished Alumni Award from Iowa State University is found at Also see

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