Bernard Strehler, USC Professor of Biology;
Studied Aging

Prof. Bernard L. Strehler

Click on Bernie's Picture above for still more insight into his life based on the website he himself helped to develop before he passed on. It was hosted for a long time (somewhere in Portugal, we believe), but for the last year or so, it has gone off the air, so to speak, and cannot be linked to from Google. However, we were able to locate a historical version of this website by going to the Web Archives website to pick up its last known incarnation dated January 23, 2004.

Prof. Bernard Louis Strehler, Ph.D. was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania on February 21, 1925. He died of a stroke on Sunday, May 13th. Recognized as one of the most prolific gerontologists of his time, Dr. Strehler published over 250 scientific papers and served as founding Editor-in-Chief of the gerontological journal Mechanisms of Aging and Development. But he was most noted for his pioneering book Time, Cells, and Aging that was published in three different editions (1962, 1977, and 1999) and translated into a half dozen different languages.

One of his first discoveries was luciferin - the material that gives off light in fireflies after it is combined with ATP (1949). Strehler and John Totter published (1952, 1953) the method for measuring as little as 10 [-10] grams of ATP. With William Arnold (1951), he discovered that all green plants are bioluminescent as a result of the reversal in the first enzymatic steps of photosynthesis. He then discovered that plants make ATP when they are illuminated and later showed that chloroplasts were the cellular components that had this ability (1952). He then was the first to be able to extract the luminescent system from luminous bacteria ( A. fischeri) which had previously been impossible (1953), and he then discovered the enzyme needed for optimal light production.

After this, he made the discovery that a part of the DNA (called ribosomal or rDNA), which is the template for the manufacture of ribosomal RNA which in turn is absolutely required for the synthesis of proteins, is selectively lost in non-dividing cells such as nerve, heart, and skeletal muscles. This turned out to be true in both humans and dogs, but the rate of loss is seven times slower in man than in dogs. This 7:1 ratio is also the ratio of the maximum life spans of these two species. It was shown by others that the loss of rDNA is paralleled by the loss of other chromosomal structures. Therefore, although there may be other harmful events that take place during the process of aging, the loss of rDNA cannot help but weaken the body as we grow old. Ultimately, the body cannot resist even the most minor of challenges.

In addition, Strehler held many patents on neural network computer hardware implementing his theory of memory and information processing. He always sought answers for the riddle of where consciousness was located in the brain.

After graduating from high school during World War II, he spent a few months at Washington and Jefferson College and transferred to the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore where he was accepted to the Medical School in 1944. Although he failed Anatomy in medical school (because he seemingly couldn't memorize things by rote and perhaps played pool too much), he enlisted in the Navy and was inducted on V.J. Day. After nine months in the Navy, he returned to undergraduate studies at The Johns Hopkins University and graduated in 1947. William McElroy was his advisor, and he enjoyed research and romance with his wife-to-be (Theodora) for the next 50 years. He finished his B.A. in 1947 and obtained his Ph.D. in 1950 because of extraordinary good luck in his research.

After graduation, he took a position at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Biology Division, where more good luck plus some serendipity made research very exciting. Because of the exciting discovery that all green plants are bioluminescent, he was invited to join Hans Gaffron and James Franck at the University of Chicago in 1953. Franck was a Nobel Prize winner for his discovery that the energy of electrons emitted by certain metals when they are illuminated is proportional to the energy in the photons (wavelength). After three happy years at Chicago where he met Leo Szilard, he and Szilard attempted to establish a research institute to study the biology of aging. But when that failed, he joined Nathan Shock in Baltimore at the National Institutes of Health where he worked for about 11 years. During that period he published his First Edition of his book Time, Cells, and Aging and which led to his prominence in the field of Gerontology. In 1967, he moved to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he continued his research into genetics and aging. After retirement, he lived and worked at Malibu Lake in Agoura, overlooking the Santa Monica mountains.

Strehler enjoyed classical music, Jazz, and Frank Sinatra. He has published poetry such as "The Prometheus Experiment" in 1969 (published in Perspectives in Biology and Medicine). He performed most of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas' baritone leads and directed a number of choirs while composing music for his wife and friends. In recent years, his pleasures included music, politics, and personal computers. All in all, a most lucky life! Dr. Strehler is survived by a son and two daughters.

Bernard Strehler; USC Researcher and Expert in the Aging Process

Bernard Strehler, 76, retired USC Molecular Biology Professor and Gerontology Expert who wrote the pioneering book Time, Cells, and Aging, died May 13th in Agoura. Strehler, who taught at USC from 1967 to 1990, was educated at Johns Hopkins University and spent his early career in research at The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and the National Institutes of Health. His research led to the discovery of luciferin, the material that contributes to the light in fireflies. He also studied the bioluminescense of green plants and then concentrated on DNA and human aging.

Obituary Column, The Los Angeles Times, p. B14 (June 8, 2001).

Bernard Strehler, 76; Studied the Causes of Aging
Wolfgang Saxon

Dr. Bernard Louis Strehler, a biochemist and gerontologist who investigated and described the physical causes of aging, died on May 13th at a nursing home in Agoura, CA. He was 76.

"The cause was a stroke," said the University of Southern California, where Dr. Strehler taught from 1967 to 1990. He made his mark as a biogerontologist with the publication of Time, Cells, and Aging in 1962.

Dr. Strehler began his career by studying photosynthesis and bioluminescence. As a graduate student at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, he helped solve the puzzle of what makes fire files glow. He needed thousands of living specimens in the laboratory, so he paid children to catch fire files for a quarter a hundred. By extracting from them a known substance, luciferin, he traced the process by which the insects produced it.

Dr. Strehler and a fellow researcher, William Arnold, established in 1951 that all green plants are bioluminescent as a result of the first steps in photosynthesis. That finding prompted the University of Chicago to recruit him as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry.

In 1956, he joined the National Institutes of Health, where he was in charge of cellular research at the Institute's Gerontology Center in Baltimore. He was appointed a Professor of Biology at the University of Southern California in 1967. He organized and directed the university's Andrus Gerontology Research Center.

Born in Johnstown, PA, he was a 1947 cell biology graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where he received a doctorate in the subject three years later.

His wife Theodora, died three years ago. His survivors include two daughters, Jan and Patricia, and a son, Bernard.

"My view is that aging is those things that go wrong when cells lose their ability to divide." Dr. Strehler said in a 1981 interview. "If we could replace our cells as rapidly as they deteriorate, we could probably live very long, if not indefinitely."

Obituary Column, The New York Times, p. 45 (Sunday, June 17, 2001).

Ref.: Coles, L. Stephen, "The Life and Contributions of Professor Bernard L. Strehler, Founding Editor-in-Chief of Mechanisms of Aging and Development, Professor of Biology at the University of Southern California [February 21, 1925 May 13, 2001]," Mechanisms of Ageing and Development, Vol. 123, pp. 821-5 (2002).