In Memoriam: Subhash Basu, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry & Biochemistry

Author: Rebecca Hicks and Anthony Serianni

Subhas Bose 1

Subhash Chandra Basu, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Notre Dame, passed away peacefully at his Granger, Indiana home on Sunday, November 14, 2021.

Originally from Kolkata, India, Basu joined the faculty at Notre Dame in 1970 after completing his Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Michigan and his postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University.

Research in Basu’s laboratory led to seminal contributions in understanding glycolipid biosynthesis in eukaryotic cells. Professor Basu, ably assisted by his wife and long-time research colleague, Dr. Manju Basu, isolated, purified, and characterized for the first time a wide range of enzymes known as glycosyltransferases (specifically galactosyltransferases, sialyltransferases, and fucosyltransferases) that are responsible for glycolipid biosynthesis in eukaryotic cells. These transferases, aided by sugar nucleotide donors, are involved in the systematic assembly in the Golgi apparatus of the oligosaccharide chains appended to glycosphingolipids and gangliosides, the latter specifically found in the brain. In vitro studies by Basu’s group established the substrate specificities of many glycosyltransferases and their kinetic properties, knowledge of which led to the elucidation of the biosynthetic pathways responsible for glycolipid biosynthesis in vivo. This work is of significant biological importance due to the fact that the plasma membranes of eukaryotic cells are coated with glycolipids that are involved in the interactions of these cells with toxins, polypeptide hormones, and other biological agents. In addition, gangliosides are involved in hereditary sphingolipid storage diseases such as Tay-Sachs disease. Later work was directed toward cell-surface glycolipid biosynthesis in cancer cells.

Basu mentored over 170 trainees, including doctoral students, postdoctoral associates, undergraduates, and visiting scholars. He received numerous awards, including a D.Sc. degree from Calcutta University, the Jacob Javits Neuroscience Research Award from the National Institutes of Health, and the NSF-CSIR TOKTEN Visiting Fellowship to India. Basu was also a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars.

After his retirement in 2009, Basu still served as editor for multiple international journals and founded the Cancer Drug Discovery Research Foundation to continue his efforts to discover effective therapies for a range of cancers. A small funeral with last rites puja and cremation was held on November 16, 2021. A celebration of life will be scheduled at a later date. Basu’s family is currently working with the College of Science to establish the Professor Subhash C. Basu Endowed Lectureship in Biochemistry at Notre Dame.