Emeagwali, Dale 1954–

views updated

Dale Emeagwali 1954

Microbiologist, cancer researcher

At a Glance


Renowned microbiologist Dr. Dale Emeagwali excels in the fields of microbiology, molecular biology, fermentation, enzymology, virology, cell biology, and biochemistry. She earned a Scientist of the Year award for her cancer-research work. Emeagwali has been commended for her contributions to and accomplishments in medical science and, as a minority in an overwhelmingly white field, she works to expose minority youth to the sciences, which she feels they are discouraged from pursuing.

Emeagwali was born Dale Brown on December 24, 1954, in Baltimore, Maryland, to Johnnie Doris Brown, a public school teacher, and Leon Robert Brown, who worked as a superintendent of the production department of Afro-American magazine for 42 years. The youngest of three children, Emeagwali grew up in the Poplar Grove-Lafayette Avenue area of Baltimore and went to Alexander Hamilton Elementary School #145 and Northwestern High School, graduating in 1972.

As a girl, Emeagwali enjoyed science and excelled in math at school. Black people are told, You cant do math, she said in an interview with the Morgan State University Spokesman. We were taught inadvertently, and sometimes directly, that we couldnt do that. Fortunately, though neither of her parents was involved in academia or science, Emeagwali received the support she needed from her parents to become one of relatively few blacks in science. According to the Afro-American, she credits her parents for her success as a scientist. She remembers her parents mentioning entertaining science facts and doing simple experiments with her and her two brothers. Her father was interested in mathematics, had a small collection of books on the subject, and would show the kids tricks using numbers. Parents must always stress the importance of education and achievement to their children, she told the Afro-American, When kids know there are low expectations, they wont rise.

Emeagwali earned her bachelors degree from Coppin State College in Baltimore in 1976, with a biology major and chemistry minor. She then left Baltimore to attend Georgetown University Medical School in Washington, D.C. Leaving her family behind for Georgetown was a cultural shock, she told the Afro-American. But she coped with the move by striving to achieve. I was always ahead in my class and I held on to that ambition, she

At a Glance

Born Dale Brown, December 24, 1954, in Baltimore, MD; daughter of Johnnie Doris (a school teacher) and Leon Robert Brown (magazine production department superintendent); married Philip Emeagwali, August 15, 1981; son: ljeoma. Education: Coppin State College, B.A., biology, 1976; Georgetown University, Ph.D., microbiology, 1981.

Career: Microbiologist and cancer researcher; co-author, Evidence of a Constitutive and Inducible Form of Kynurenine Formamidase, Archives of Biochemistry and Biophysics, 1980; postdoctoral fellow, National Institutes of Health, 1981-84; co-author, Sequence Homology Between the Structural Proteins of Kilham Rat Virus, Journal of Virology, 1984; co-author, Purification and Characterization of Kynurenine Formamidase Activity from S Paravulus, Canadian Journal of Microbiology, 1986; postdoctoral fellow, Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, 1985-86; research associate, University of Wyoming, 1986-87; senior research fellow, University of Michigan, 1987-88, assistant research associate, 1988-91; co-author, Modulation of Ras Expression by Antisense Non-ionic Deoxyoligonucleotide Analogues, Journal of Gene Research, 1989; co-author, Amplified Expression of Three Jun Family Members Inhibits Erytholeukemia Differentiation Blood, 1990; research associate, University of Minnesota, 1992-95; Morgan State University, 1996-.

Member: Sigma Xi, 1983-; American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1985-.

Awards: Biomedical Fellowship Award, Meharry Medical College, 1974; Third Place Award, Best Presentation, Beta Kappa Chi and the National Institute of Science, 1976; Biomedical Research Award, Coppin State College, 1976; Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, National Science Foundation, 1981; Postdoctoral Fellowship Award, American Cancer Society, 1981; Scientist of the Year, National Technical Society, 1996.

Address: Office 3713 Sylvan Dr., Baltimore, MD 21207-6364.

continued in the Afro-American. I felt I had the ability to easily assimilate, regardless of race or class.

While on a bus trip back to Georgetown after a school break, Emeagwali met Philip Emeagwali, a Nigerian doctorate student in civil engineering at Georgetown. Not long after, the two were wed. Though they both are scientists, they practice in different disciplines: she is a medical scientist; he is a leading research scientist involved with supercomputers and the Internet. Together, they make an effort to motivate minority students to pursue careers in science. While living in Minnesotahe was working as a research fellow, she as a research associate at University of Minnesotathey began working with the Science Museum of Minnesota on the annual African-American Science Day there. The science-fair-type event, which also includes other professional scientists, is designed to give fourth-through twelfth-graders from inner-city neighborhoods an idea of what scientists do. We make it seem like an everyday thing so it isnt a shock that we do science, Dale Emeagwali told the Star Tribune. The purpose of science is to do something useful, she told the Bog Hopper, Plants and trees, soap bubbles and toyssimple, everyday thingsare science. What I do in the lab, a lot of it is cooking and cleaning. She believes that this is most beneficial to minority kids, who are often discouraged from pursuing an interest in science. When a black child said he wanted to be a doctor, she told the Afro-American, he was slapped upside the head and told to stop being simple. Dale Emeagwali also teaches undergraduate-level college science courses. The Emeagwalis have a son, Ijeoma.

After she earned her Ph.D. in microbiology from Georgetown, Emeagwali earned postdoctoral fellowships at the National Institutes of Health and the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences. In 1987, she and her husband moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she worked as a senior research fellow, then as an assistant research associate, while he worked as a researcher. They both then worked for the University of Minnesota.

Emeagwalis scientific accomplishments so far include the discovery of isoenzymes of kynurenine formamidase in the bacteria Streptomyces paravulus. Prior to her discovery, the isoenzymes were thought to exist only in higher organisms. Her finding is important because a better knowledge of this enzyme in particular could lead to further understanding of what causes cancers of the blood, like leukemia. She was among the first to prove that the cancer gene, or oncogene ras, could be inhibited by a technique known as antisense methodology. This discovery has therapeutic potential because oncogene ras is overexpressed in most cancers.

Her findings in the field of biochemistry have pointed out shortcomings of current research and data interpretation involving proteins. She developed a system for the analysis of a significant cellular protein. The results will affect the current understanding of how some proteins work. In the field of virology, Emeagwali worked with a DNA virus and found the existence of overlapping genes. This discovery sheds light into how organisms may be able to more efficiently use limited genetic material.

In 1996, Emeagwali was named Scientist of the Year by the National Technical Society. The honor is given each year to a scientist who is regarded as a role model and inspiration to other scientists and whose work has somehow benefitted mankind. Emeagwali earned it for her contributions to the fields of microbiology, molecular biology, and biochemistry.

After years of pursuing science and academics all over the United States, Emeagwali moved back to the Baltimore area with her husband in 1996. She took an associate professor position at Morgan State University there, while Philip Emeagwali works as an independent consultant. She enjoys exercise, reading, painting, and has a yellow belt in karate. One of her poems has been published in the Atlantic Monthly.



Black Scientists and Inventors Year 2000 Calendar, BIS Publications, 1999.

Henderson, Ashyia, ed., Whos Who Among African Americans, The Gale Group, 2000.


Bog Hopper (a science publication for secondary teachers), January-March 1995.

Insight, January 24, 1995, p. 1A.

Journal of the NTA (National Technical Association), Fall 1998, p. 15.

Spokesman (Morgan State University), November 19, 1996, p. 1.

Star Tribune (Minnesota), January 28, 1995, p. 1B.


Dale Emeagwali Homepage, http://www.emeagwali.com/dale (July 20, 2001).


Additional material was provided by Dale Emeagwali, 2001.

Brenna Sanchez