We extend our heartfelt thanks to Alex and Mark for their many contributions to the department over the years and plan to honor them at a retirement reception this summer. Congratulations, and enjoy retirement to the fullest!
Alexander J. Ninfa, Professor of Biological Chemistry, retired on May 31, 2021. Ninfa received his B.S. from Villanova University in 1977 and his Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1983. He was an assistant professor at Wayne State University before joining U-M as an associate professor in 1993. He was promoted to professor in 1999. Ninfa’s research focused on bacterial nitrogen regulation, and on elucidating the design principles of natural and synthetic signal transduction systems. This research resulted in numerous multiyear NIH and NSF grants, over 80 peer-reviewed publications, chapters in books, and presentations at international meetings. Ninfa served as course director for Introductory Biochemistry and Biochemistry II, and, with Professor Emeritus David P. Ballou, developed an undergraduate course in biotechnology and published a widely used textbook. He was both director and co-director of the Biological Chemistry Master’s program. He also participated in multiple departmental committees in Biological Chemistry, as well as in the Medical School’s Advisory Committee on Appointments, Promotion, and Tenure and the Biomedical Research Council. He received U-M’s Henry Russel Award in 1999, was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2011, and was awarded the Endowment for Basic Sciences Teaching Award in 2015.
Mark A. Saper, Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Associate Research Scientist of Biophysics, retired on May 31, 2021. Saper received his B.S. from the University of Connecticut in 1976 and his Ph.D. from Rice University in 1983. He joined U-M as an assistant professor and assistant research scientist in 1990 and was promoted to associate professor and associate research scientist in 1997. Saper was honored as an HHMI, PEW and Fulbright Scholar. A sabbatical visit to Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 2003 resulted in binational funding and new research directions studying proteins necessary for the export of bacterial polysaccharide capsule from enteropathogenic E. coli, including crystal structure determination of one of these proteins. Thereafter, he studied the LpoA protein, essential for bacterial cell wall biosynthesis, and an endopeptidase from Vibrio cholerae, also important for cell wall growth. He was known as a highly skilled, hands-on crystallographer and taught a graduate course on X-ray crystallography. He developed a hands-on molecular graphics component for the core Program in Biomedical Sciences course, Biological Chemistry 550 and Chemical Biology 501, and directed student seminar courses. He served on departmental and Medical School committees.