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Obituary for Dan Tawfik

Obituary for Dan Tawfik by Avi Levy - Dean Faculty

Danny, my friend, my colleague.

Every discussion with you was a true pleasure.  A few jokes and laughs and some wonderful scientific exchanges. 

Our friendship started 20 years ago when Danny joined the Institute-- I was working on gene and genome duplications and Danny got interested in this topic as he thought, and later on proved, that gene duplicates are the intermediates that enable an enzyme to acquire new functions.

Danny was an outstanding biochemist from the school of Dobzhansky in thinking that "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution".  He started by asking how new protein functions evolve and more recently, he embarked into the most ambitious of all projects, wrestling with the greatest mystery of all for a biochemist, namely asking “what the first protein from which all proteins evolved, looked like”.   and he did that with much success.  In retrospect, Danny reminds me of the rabbi who wanted to pierce the mystery of creation and entered the orchard and never came back.     

A few weeks ago, Danny and I wrote a grant together for a company. Indeed, Danny’s virtuosity at evolving new proteins was very attractive to the industry. But Danny was incorruptible.  He told me clearly—Avi, I am ready to get funds from a company, but only to do things that I would like to do anyways, regardless of funding.    Another reason he did not want to get too much funding was that he was reluctant to have too big a group.  He wanted to be able to give enough attention to each lab member.  He invested a lot in each of them, he was very proud of his group, he was a great mentor.   

Danny, we will make sure that all your team members are well taken care of.

Not only his students grew taller thanks to him.  Each of us in the faculty and the institute was enriched by talking to Danny, by reading his publications or by listening to his inspiring lectures.

Science for its own sake, was first and sacred for Danny. For all the years I knew him he showed no signs of inclination for scientific administration –that is before he became vice-chair of the scientific council.   I was therefore surprised two years ago, when he told me that he is interested to contribute to the administrative life on campus.  This is one thing typical of Danny, that even though we thought we knew him well he could always surprise us.  Danny explained that he strongly felt that the Institute is his second family, therefore he had to give something back. 

Thank you Danny for all that you gave us.  The campus will not be the same without you.  Your life was a blessing for those who worked with you and for your friends, and your memory will be a blessing.  I will finish by reading an email I received on Thursday from Frances Arnold, who got the Nobel prize on Protein evolution  Avi, I heard this terrible news yesterday, and it leaves me very sad. Sad for his colleagues, friends, family, students, and for the whole protein world, We learned so much from him.  He left us at a very high point in his career. Far too soon.   Frances”