Russell W. Carlson
Dr. Carlson is currently Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Adjunct Professor of Microbiology, and Technical Director of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia.
Dr. Carlson received his B.A. degree (major: Chemistry; minor: Mathematics) from North Park College, Chicago, IL in 1968. In 1976, after serving four years in the United States Navy, he received his Ph.D in Biochemistry from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He then completed two years of post-doctoral research under the direction of Dr. Peter Albersheim at the University of Colorado, after which, he joined Monsanto Agricultural Research Products Company in St. Louis, MO. In 1979 Dr. Carlson joined the Chemistry Department at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, IL where he served as Professor until 1988. In 1988 Dr. Carlson became a member of the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA where he currently serves as Technical Director, Professor of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, and Adjunct Professor of Microbiology.
Dr. Carlson’s research is directed toward determining how a bacterium can infect a plant or animal cell. One system under investigation is the beneficial (symbiotic) infection of legumes (pea, bean, alfalfa, clover, etc.) by nitrogen-fixing bacteria called rhizobia. Complex molecules that are part of the cell membrane of these bacteria are required for infection of the plant root cells and the focus of this research is to determine the function of specific changes to these molecules that occur when the bacterium comes into contact with the plant cell.
This project has potential practical applications for the improvement of crop yields, understanding plant development, and how the plant defends itself against potential pathogens. Dr. Carlson also has projects directed toward determining the mechanism of virulence of pathogenic bacteria such as those which cause meningitis. This work has potential applications for the development of vaccines, and for the prevention of sepsis (also known as toxic shock). To support this research, Dr. Carlson has received grants in excess of $3.5 million from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. He has published more than 100 articles in various peer-reviewed journals, has three patents, and has given numerous invited lectures at various meetings and Universities throughout the U.S. as well is in Europe and South America.
Dr. Carlson’s research has been accomplished through the very hard work of numerous undergraduate and graduate students, and post-doctoral research associates. Over the years Dr. Carlson has directed the work of more than 15 graduate students and 15 post-doctoral research associates. These individuals have pursued careers in science at various academic and industrial institutions (e.g. University of California Riverside, University of Florida, Purdue University, Bayer Laboratories). Research is always a team effort, and a great deal of credit for the success of Dr. Carlson’s research program goes to these very capable and dedicated colleagues.
Personal Story for Russell W. Carlson
The decision came while I was in a stairwell of a seven-story science building in Chicago, Ill.
The questions plaguing me were:
- Should I continue to believe God exists ?
- Can I know Him?
- Or should I abandon any idea that there is a God and live my life accordingly?
It was 1967. I was a 21 year-old college student when my life and the necessity to make such a decision collided in that stairwell.
I was not entirely surprised when this “collision” came. Since entering college I had been obsessed with two concerns. First, what was God’s plan for me? How could I find out? Why didn’t He just tell me or show me? I wanted more than anything to know the answer to this question so that I could follow His will. The second concern was to doubt whether God even existed. I began to wonder if my inability to know God’s plan for me was because there really was no God, or if He did exist, He simply didn’t care what I or anyone else did with their life.
I should have known better than to have these concerns and doubts. You see, I was raised in a Christian home. My father was a pastor. My grandfather was also a pastor. Most of my closest relatives were Christians. I had lived my entire life with people who sincerely loved God. I had seen in their lives a faith in Christ so real that hardships and sacrifice only made their love for Him stronger.
Was It Reasonable To Believe?
I remember committing my life to Christ when I was seven. Therefore, when I entered college in 1964, if anyone should have been prepared for challenges to his faith, it should have been me. However, college proved to be a traumatic time for me. I was forced to think through my beliefs for myself, because what I was taught in college raised many questions in my mind. Was it reasonable to believe in God and in Jesus Christ? Was what the Bible said about God and how to know Him true?
I have always enjoyed science, but it was not science or my college science professors that challenged my faith. I attended a Christian college, and the challenge came from courses in Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian Ethics. My professors questioned the reliability of the scriptures, the miracles in the Bible, and the miracles of Christ, including the importance of His resurrection:
How could a miracle such as resurrection from the dead really occur?Wasn’t the really important thing about Christ His teachings such as “love thy neighbor”, forgive others, etc.? Perhaps an actual resurrection (which they implied was impossible) isn’t important, they suggested. I was not well prepared for such challenges. After all, they were the professors; they must be right. Right?
I came very close to abandoning my faith in Christ. Yet, I could not forget my own experience with Christ, I could not forget the examples of my parents, my grandparents, or ignore the faith experience of my fiancé, as well as the wonderful examples of her parents and grandparents. I was forced to evaluate more critically what my professors were telling me about the Bible and about Christ. I found out that they were teaching from the works of prominent theologians whose analysis of scripture was based on their assumption that God does not exist. I discovered that other Biblical scholars did not share the views of these theologians.
It has now been many years since that intense time of questioning in my life, but the learning process for me has never stopped. I have learned that:
- The Bible is reliable and true, and that it can be trusted as a guide for my life;
- God is real and that it is reasonable to believe and trust Him;
- He has been directing and guiding my life;
- While it is important to know God’s will for my life, it is even more important for me to be willing. By being willing, I was able to follow the interests and talents that God gave me which, for me, were to pursue my interest in science.
- Faith in God and science are complementary and that knowing and trusting God through Jesus Christ has enhanced my understanding and appreciation of nature.
Everything that I have learned depended on the first lesson: I needed to have a personal relationship with God and that to have this relationship required me to make a decision. That decision was to recognize that I was separated from God by sin, to believe that Jesus Christ died so that I could have a relationship with Him, and to ask for His forgiveness. That decision was made when I was seven years old, but also involved the commitment to continue believing and trusting in Him, a commitment made in that stairwell of the science building in 1967.
I have had the wonderful privilege of knowing God for many years, of seeing His guidance in every aspect of my life. He has blessed me with a great wife, six wonderful children and, at the moment, five terrific grandchildren. It is a great honor for me to know Christ. I highly recommend Him to you.
(If you have any questions please feel free to contact me at rcarlson [at] ccrc.uga.edu)