In Memoriam: Jane Setlow

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Posted: April 5, 2010

Jane (Kellock) Setlow died on March 4, 2010, in Shoreham, NY.  Jane was born in Washington, DC and had lived in New York, Philadelphia, Connecticut, Tennessee, and for the last 35 years in Shoreham. She was a graduate of the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA, and received their Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Swarthmore College in 1940 at age 20 on a full scholarship, with a degree in Psychology. She was also captain of the field hockey team and starred on the basketball team. After having four children, she went to graduate school at Yale and received a Ph.D. in Biophysics in 1959. She worked as a Biologist and Senior Geneticist in the Biology Division of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) from 1960 to 1974 on various aspects of DNA damage, DNA repair, and DNA recombination in bacteria and yeast. She continued this work as a senior geneticist with tenure in the Biology Division at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL) from 1974 until her formal retirement in 1993. She then continued to work at Brookhaven as a guest senior geneticist until her full retirement in 2007. During her long research career she published more than 125 papers and from 1979 to 2007 was the co-editor and then the editor of the long running series of yearly books on genetic engineering published by Plenum Press.
Among the other achievements in her scientific career, Jane served on the Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC) of the National Institutes of Health from 1974-1980 and chaired the committee from 1978 to 1980 when many of the regulations concerning the initial work on recombinant DNA were formulated.
Said John Dunn, a colleague in BNL’s Biology Department, “Jane was an internationally recognized scientist with numerous publications. She played an important role in setting up guidelines for recombinant DNA research on the RAC committee, laying the foundation for permitting such studies to be undertaken.”
William Studier, a former Chair of Brookhaven’s Biology Department, commented, “Jane had a career-long interest in studying the effects of radiation and chemical mutagens on DNA, work she pursued both at ORNL and BNL. Her studies were in microbes, most prominently Haemophilus influenzae. She studied the effects of different types of damage on DNA replication, genetic transformation and recombination, and mechanisms by which the damage could be repaired. She may have been the first (in 1964) to study effects of radiation on the highly resistant bacterium Micrococcus radiodurans, which withstands extremely high doses of radiation and has received considerable attention in recent years. Jane was founding editor of the series Genetic Engineering: Principles & Methods in 1979 with co-editor Alexander Hollaender, and was sole editor from volume 10 in 1988 through volume 28 in 2007. Her work on the NIH Recombinant DNA Molecule Program Advisory Committee was high profile and very important in the early days of research on recombinant DNA, ensuring that this important science could go forward responsibly at a time when the field was quite controversial.”
John Shanklin of Brookhaven’s Biology Department met Jane on his arrival at the Lab in 1992. “At her request, I became an Editorial Board Member of Genetic Engineering for many years. She did an excellent job producing this influential series on biotechnology. Jane generously helped edit numerous papers and grant applications for myself and others in a kind and positive way, which allowed us to concentrate on the scientific content while helping develop our writing skills. She became an informal mentor to many postdoctoral researchers and helped address their various issues with compassion and humor.”
A long-time member of the Biophysical Society, Jane was its president in 1977. It was in this latter position that her experience in supervising her four very rambunctious and argumentative children was most helpful. At a morning meeting of the Society officers, a supply of muffins was delivered late and with too few to feed the whole group. When arguments broke out as to who was entitled to what, Jane loudly exclaimed, “Sit down, shut up, and I will divide the buns.”
 Jane was an avid amateur pianist and singer, encouraging and supporting music lessons for all her children, accompanying family music and sing-a-longs and participating in local choirs for most of her adult life. From 1972-1987, Jane volunteered for two weeks every summer at Camp Greentop, a residential camp for physically disabled adults in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland where all of her children worked as well.  She was a counselor there for 10 years and spent the last six running the camp store. She was an integral part of the camp and took part in a number of evening programs, once playing the wicked witch in a production of the Wizard of Oz. However this was definitely casting against type, since Jane was caring, compassionate and outgoing and always saw the best in everyone.
    Michael A. Resnick of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, NIH, has fond memories of Jane. “As a postdoc to Jane's lab in 1970, for one year prior to my faculty appointment at the University of Rochester, there was a lot to do in a short time.  Jane, of course, was the ideal mentor for developing ideas and experiments rapidly, providing critical and intense conversation as well as providing tremendous encouragement. The great thing about the Oak Ridge Biology Division was that there were no diversions, no windows to look out, just bright fluorescent lights with a lot of intense science all encase in a rather ugly red brick building surrounded by a rather forbidding wire fence.  I had the good fortune of sharing an office with Jane and quickly was able to share her wonderful sense of humor, love of science and the arts. Since we were working with hemophilus, each day was a new set of experiments and there were quickly plans for the next day. To keep things straight, the two us got into the habit of writing experiments on her blackboard and then betting on the outcomes. Being as I was a poor postdoc with two kids, we limited our bets to between 25 cents and a buck. Discussing experiments and deciding on the level of the bet (an indicator of confidence) was part of the daily fun and repartee that permeated the critiquing of my work. Of course, the occasional bet that I won was a tremendous reward, but not for the small change that received (I am not sure we ever went double-or-nothing). I think all those bets contributed to the papers we developed during that memorable year. Jane's smile, enthusiasm, and depth of commitment to research and to people in general are an important part of recollections of my younger days in science. I am truly grateful to having been able to spend a year in Jane's lab.
    Jane was predeceased by her brother Alan Kellock of Sun City, AZ and is survived by her former husband Richard Setlow of East Quogue, NY, and her four children:  Peter Setlow and his wife Barbara of Farmington, CT; Michael Setlow and his wife Patricia of Baltimore, MD; Katherine Setlow O’Brien and her husband Frederick of Orange, CT, and Charles Setlow and his fiancée Carol Burns of Shoreham, NY.  Also by her grandchildren Barry Setlow and his wife Jennifer Bizon of College Station, TX; Jennifer Setlow of Tempe AZ; Carson Setlow of Baltimore, MD; Cortland Setlow of Baltimore, MD; Sally Jane O’Brien of Philadelphia, PA; and Liam O’Brien of Orange, CT; as well as two great grandchildren, Alexander Bizon Setlow and Anna Ping Bizon Setlow of College Station, TX.
Jane Setlow, who joined the Biology Department in 1974 as a senior geneticist with tenure, working on the effects of radiation and chemical mutagens on DNA, died at 90 years old on March 4, 2010. From 1974 to 1980, she served on the National Institutes of Health Recombinant DNA Molecule Program Advisory Committee, chairing the committee 1978-80. She was also founding editor of the series of annual volumes of Genetic Engineering: Principles & Methods with co-editor Alexander Hollaender, and was sole editor from volume 10 in 1988 through volume 28 in 2007. She retired from BNL on September 30, 1993, continuing her work as a guest senior geneticist in the Biology Department until 2007.

Last Modified: April 5, 2010