The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Maret Traber Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

June 23, 2014


Maret Gillett was born in Stockton, California in 1950, the daughter of a milkman and an Estonian immigrant. An excellent student, Gillett attended the University of California at Berkeley tuition-free as a California State Scholar. Initially interested in chemistry, Gillett changed her major to nutrition partly out of an interest in the discipline's applicability to real world problems. As a junior at Berkeley, Gillett also met and married Biff Traber, himself a student in computer science.

Following the completion of her undergraduate coursework in 1972, Traber moved directly into Berkeley's Ph.D. program. The focus of her doctoral research was cholesterol absorption and transport in guinea pigs. She completed this work in 1976, at which point the family moved to New Jersey, the location of Biff Traber's employer, Bell Laboratories.

Employment opportunities for Maret Traber were less promising in New Jersey. After a nine-month stint in a part time position assisting graduate students at Rutgers University, Traber was hired as Research Scientist in a small laboratory at the New York University Medical Center. She remained in this post for seventeen years.

The initial focus of the NYU group's research was a study of low-density lipoprotein receptors in individuals suffering from inherited disorders of metabolic diseases. Over time, symptoms of certain specific metabolic diseases were identified as having been caused by Vitamin E deficiencies. This led Traber and her colleagues to begin investigating the absorption and transport of Vitamin E, work which marked the beginning of an interest in Vitamin E that has defined much of Traber's career ever since.

In 1994, once again prompted by changes in Biff Traber's employment landscape, but also motivated by clear limitations in the NYU laboratory, the Trabers returned to the Bay Area. Once arrived, Maret Traber joined Lester Packer's laboratory at UC Berkeley, initially on a volunteer basis. After three years of studying lipoic acid as a member of Packer's group, Traber moved on to UC Davis and shifted gears to a study of atherosclerosis in cigarette smokers.

In 1998, after a year at Davis, Traber was recruited to be one of the first principal investigators at the OSU incarnation of the Linus Pauling Institute. A science professional for twenty-two years, the LPI post offered Traber her first chance to run her own laboratory. In the years that followed, she established herself as a world authority on Vitamin E, conducting studies on its relation to oxidative stress, the connection between genetics and Vitamin E deficiency, the vitamin's antioxidant properties, and its interactions with Vitamin K, among other topics.

In 2000 Traber served on the National Academy of Sciences board charged with establishing the recommended daily allowance for several vitamins, and chaired the committee focusing on Vitamin E. The author of over 180 peer reviewed papers, Traber became an OSU endowed chair in 2011. She is presently the Director of the Oxidative/Nitrative Stress Core Laboratory at the Linus Pauling Institute.