After 17 years as an Editor of The Journal of Experimental Biology, Bill Harvey is retiring to dedicate more time to his main scientific passion: the study of V-ATPases. Harvey's connection with the journal began in 1967 when he published his first paper with the JEB, and we suspect that although this Editorial marks his retirement as an Editor, it will not mark the end of his 42 year publishing career with the journal.

Growing up in a small town in Vermont in the 1930s and 40s, Harvey thought that he was destined for a career in teaching. ‘The only thing that I knew you could do was be a teacher, or a minister or a lawyer. I didn't know you could be anything else,’ chuckles Harvey. After a year based at Pearl Harbor in the US Navy, Harvey finally arrived at Tufts in the spring of 1947 where he majored in Education. But having completed all of the Education courses during the first semester, Harvey indulged his passion for the sciences, taking every available Biology and Chemistry class. Graduating first in his class in 1950, Harvey won a Fulbright Scholarship that took him across the Atlantic to Edinburgh to continue his training as a teacher, where he spent a year analysing examination result statistics for his BEd. His future in education seemed assured.

However, returning to a teaching post in a small Vermont high school, it soon became clear that the life of a high school teacher was far too dull for Harvey. He knew he had to get out of Vermont somehow. Fortunately, a friend who was studying at Harvard invited him down to the Biology Department and suggested that Harvey consider working for the insect physiologist Carroll M. Williams. ‘I had just returned from Edinburgh,’ explains Harvey, ‘so when I got to the Biology Department, and my friend brought me to meet Williams, I said “My name is William Harvey, I just came from Edinburgh and I would like to work for you”.’ At the time Williams had just given the highly esteemed ‘Harvey Lecture’, named after William Harvey, the 17th century English physician who discovered the cardiovascular circulatory system, and knew that most of Harvey's papers were in archives in Edinburgh. Williams was delighted by this coincidence and could not pass up the chance of working with another William Harvey on hearts, albeit three centuries late, so he offered Harvey a place in his lab and, ‘he insisted that I work on caterpillar hearts,’ Harvey recalls.

Harvey continued his work on the physiology of insects after completing his PhD and joining the University of Massachusetts, but it was in 1960, when he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and joined Karl Zerahn's lab in Copenhagen, that Harvey's future course in science was settled. Together with Zerahn and Signe Nedergaard, they discovered the caterpillar midgut transport system and Harvey began his life long association with V-ATPases.

Over his six decade long career, Harvey has shown that V-ATPases move hydrogen ions across cell membranes where they are commonly said to acidify the extracellular region. However, this is not always the case, as the transport of hydrogen ions establishes an electrical potential across the membrane, which can be used in turn to drive the transport of other ions. For example, if chloride ions are driven across the membrane with the hydrogen ions, then the resulting HCl does acidify the extracellular region. In addition, Helmut Wieczorek showed that the voltage can also drive two hydrogen ions back into the cells in exchange for one potassium or sodium ion and make the extracellular region alkaline. ‘In the early 1960s, everyone thought that the primary transport was sodium ions,’ explains Harvey, but by the early 1980s, he had shown that potassium ion transport occurs out of the caterpillar midgut goblet cells, and that the cells' membranes are packed with portasomes that we now know are V-ATPase sectors.

Around this time Harvey was invited to attend a major meeting hosted by the journal on the subject of epithelial transport by his long standing colleague and JEB Editor-in-Chief, John Treherne. Harvey remembers that he presented his work on the potassium transport in portasomes, which he thought at the time were macromolecules comprising the potassium ion pump that he referred to as the K-ATPase. The resulting collection of papers, published in September 1983, went on to become a widely cited classic in epithelial transport.

It was another 9 years before Harvey finally joined the JEB Editorial Team. With Harvey's long track record in epithelial membrane transport and V-ATPases, Charlie Ellington invited him to join the team as the Reviews Editor: organizing the annual JEB symposia on a wide variety of topics in locations all over the globe. Having edited many of the collections of papers that resulted from these meetings, Harvey was ideally situated to move into the role of peer review Editor when Hans Hoppeler became the journal's most recent Editor-in-Chief in 2004.

Since then Harvey has continued publishing with the journal, racking up his 50th publication with the journal in 2009, and admits that working with the JEB Editorial Administrator Margaret Clements has been one of the highlights of this long association. ‘I'm going to miss the meetings and I will miss getting the opportunity to review papers on membrane physiology’ he suspects.

But Harvey has no intention of settling down for a quiet life. Having held an NIH grant continually for over 50 years, Harvey is now applying his understanding of mosquito physiology to the risks posed by bioterrorists. ‘It is safe to say that I am still actively pursuing research,’ laughs Harvey as he embarks on this new challenge.