Frederick Collins was born in Palmerston North and educated at Kings College Preparatory School and Correspondence School. He attended Victoria University of Wellington and graduated with B.Sc. in 1939 and M.Sc. (1st Class Hons) in Chemistry in 1940. M.A. Trewhella writes: “Collins completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry, University of Liverpool, during the period 1946-49 and he continued to work with his PhD supervisor, Prof. R. A. Morton, on the biochemistry of vision, until 1952. This work explored the involvement of Vitamin A and certain other lipid molecules in the vision process and led to a significant expansion in the understanding of the underlying chemical changes and chemical molecules associated with vision. The results of the work were published in 21 scientific papers, mainly in the prestigious periodicals, Nature and The Biochemical Journal.
In 1952, he took up an appointment as Senior Research Scholar in the Department of Biochemistry, Australian National University and began a research involvement with a group of lipid molecules, the phospholipids, which was to occupy his attention for the remainder of his life. He worked at ANU until 1958 and during this period explored the basic chemical structure of the phospholipids, a group of molecules closely associated with the structure of all living cells; the results of this work appeared in 6 scientific papers.
He moved to the Russel Grimwade School of Biochemistry, University of Melbourne, in 1958. Collins was ahead of the rest of the scientific world in appreciating the importance of phospholipids in cellular function and his persistence was rewarded in 1960 when he demonstrated that not only were these molecules actively turning over, that is, forming and breaking down, but that different molecules were turning over at quite different rates. The results were published in Nature in 1960 and represented a turning point in the importance attributed to these molecules by biological scientists.
His further research into the behaviour of the phospholipids led to the discovery that the fatty acid moieties present in a molecule determined its biological function. He was able to relate these findings to a developing research interest in a class of molecules known as the essential fatty acids, molecules required in the diets of animals in order to ensure proper nutrition and development. He was able to demonstrate that individual molecular species of phospholipids containing essential fatty acid moieties behaved quite differently from those containing non-essential moeties.
He also detected the presence of an anomalous fatty acid in animals with diets devoid of essential fatty acids and argued that this was a chemical indicator of a syndrome known as essential fatty acid deficiency. It was argued by many scientists that essential fatty acid deficiency would never be a human problem, but in 1965 he was able to show the presence of the clinical indicator in a patient with liver cancer and in 1970 in another patient restricted in intravenous nutrition. The latter finding had tremendous significance for the composition of intravenous nutrition formulations containing essential fatty acids. It also added impetus to the need to answer questions about the appropriate composition of infant formulas and led, in part, to the development of vastly improved infant supplements replete in essential fatty acids.
Collins also devoted research effort in the early 1970s to the composition of the various serum lipoprotein fractions which turned out to be important in the assessment of cholesterol as a risk factor for coronary heart disease. His main research effort in the later years of his life was spent investigating the basic biochemistry of essential fatty acids in skeletal muscle phospholipds and the last results from this work were published in 1977.
Collins died prematurely in 1974. His contribution to biochemistry was tremendously important and had impacts in areas that continue to affect a very large number of people. His own ideas and those of the students he trained continue to influence the direction of research in the field of essential fatty acid and phospholipid function.
For five years he was the first federal Honorary Secretary of the Australian Biochemical Society and was Advisory Editor of The Chemistry and Physics of Lipids published by the North Holland Publishing Company.’
In 2011, the Collins family kindly established an award to honour the role that Fred Collins played in the establishment of the Australian Biochemical Society. The Fred Collins Award is awarded to the most outstanding ASBMB Fellowship applicant and includes $1000 in addition to Fellowship travel expenses.
- Letter from A.W. Collins 4 April, 2004.
- M. A. Trewhella. ‘F.D. Collins’ Research Profile.’ 1998.
- F.D. Collins’ Curriculum Vitae sent by Win Collins, 1997.
https://www.asbmb.org.au/fredcollins-html/ 14 October 2014