An Amazing Human Being
intrigued by how well the parasite avoids being destroyed by the body's immune system. "Oh, it's a perfectly marvelous organism," he says. He recalls his delight at seeing it under the microscope for the first time. "It does all sorts of astonishing things to the whole cell that it's growing inside of. Just as with the Sindbis virus, it became a marvelous organism for parasitological research."
"Elmer finessed the technique for isolating the parasite from cat feces," says Dr. Lloyd Kasper, a DMS neurologist who after completing his residency at DHMC in 1979 worked as a fellow in Pfefferkorn's lab until 1983. "Elmer's big scientific approach was to do these crosses—he would mutagenize the parasite, isolate some pathway that he was interested in. And then he would take those parasites and he would cross them in the cat gut because this was the only way that you could do genetic recombination." This was before scientists had developed molecular techniques for inserting genes into organisms.
Pfefferkorn is also "still famous in virology for creating the first temperature-sensitive mutants in a eukaryotic virus," says Bzik. These mutants stop growing at body temperature.
In addition, Pfefferkorn worked on developing a vaccine as well as testing drugs against T. gondii.
Many people are studying the parasite today because it's so amenable to genetic manipulation. In fact, work in the field "really started with the ideas that Elmer developed," says Dr. Louis Weiss, a T. gondii expert at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "He did some of the very early work on molecular biology in this organism and [on] drug resistance and mutagenesis."
Pfefferkorn is an avid reader and long collected first-edition translations of Elizabethan literature and books on 19th-century British explorations of the Arctic. Among his treasures is a first edition of Whittier's Snow-Bound.
The more one learns about Elmer Pfefferkorn, the more intriguing the story gets. This consummate scientist has several avocations that fall firmly in the humanities. He's an avid reader and long collected first-edition translations of Elizabethan literature and books on 19th-century British explorations of the Arctic. He recently sent those collections to auction, but he still has an extensive