Gottesman wins
for post-transcriptional
regulation work

Published April 03 2017

Susan Gottesman

“I am extremely honored to receive the Herbert Tabor Research Award from ASBMB and to have my name associated with Herb Tabor as well as the impressive list of previous winners. Herb Tabor is the ultimate example of someone who has, throughout his career, combined service to the scientific community with excellent science in a way that the rest of us can only hope to emulate.”


Susan Gottesman of the National Cancer Institute has won the 2017 Herbert Tabor Research Award for her work on post-transcriptional regulation in bacteria. The Tabor award recognizes outstanding scientific accomplishments, excellence in biological chemistry and molecular biology, and significant contributions to the community of scientists. The award is named after the Journal of Biological Chemistry’s former longtime editor at the National Institutes of Health. Gottesman’s work has unveiled the role that energy-dependent proteolysis plays in protein turnover and how small regulatory RNAs influence regulatory circuits. Her research has shown that bacteria possess complex mechanisms of post-transcriptional gene regulation and inspired similar research in eukaryotes.

Early on, Gottesman and collaborators defined the regulatory mechanisms for energy-dependent proteolysis during stress. They used Escherichia coli to construct variants. These constructs allowed them to identify the Lon ATP-dependent protease as a regulator of bacterial capsule synthesis, cell division following DNA damage, and bacteriophage lambda development via degradation of regulatory proteins.

Collaborations with Michael Maurizi and Sue Wickner at the NCI allowed Gottesman to identify the ATP-dependent Clp proteases and the chaperone function of their ATPase domains. Recently, she and her collaborators have shown that regulated proteolysis controls the levels of the transcription factor RpoS in response to stress and various growth conditions. Degradation of RpoS requires ClpXP protease and an adaptor protein that delivers RpoS to ClpXP; under stress conditions, anti-adaptor proteins interfere with adaptor function. Several of these anti-adaptor proteins have been shown to be expressed differently to specific stresses.

Gottesman and her team also found that the expression of RpoS protein is a highly regulated process that depends on novel small RNAs. DsrA is one of these small RNAs that activates the translation of RpoS at low temperatures. RprA and ArcZ are two other small RNAs that have been described that also function positively to regulate RpoS translation.

Lawrence E. Samelson at the NCI pointed out in his nomination letter that a number of parallels can be drawn between Tabor’s career and that of Gottesman. Both developed their groundbreaking work at the NIH and demonstrated an unmatched commitment to the service of the scientific community. In their letters of support for Gottesman’s nomination, Bonnie L. Bassler at Princeton University and Tina M. Henkin at Ohio State University highlighted the fact that Gottesman selflessly has encouraged the advancement of their careers despite not having been their official mentor. This shows Gottesman’s commitment to being a “leader, a teacher and a mentor in the truest sense,” wrote Bassler.

Gottesman has served on the boards of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Genetics Society, the American Academy of Microbiology and the National Academy of Science as well as the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s scientific advisory board. She was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1998 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences the following year.

Gottesman earned her Ph.D. at Harvard University and moved to the NIH to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship. In 1974, she became a research associate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, in 1976, returned to the NIH as a senior investigator. She later became chief of the biochemical genetics section at the NCI and co-chief of the laboratory of molecular biology.

Gottesman will receive her award during the 2017 ASBMB Annual Meeting in Chicago, where she will deliver an award lecture. The presentation will take place at 5:30 p.m. April 22 in the Skyline Ballroom W375c in McCormick Place.

Mariana Figuera-Losada Mariana Figuera-Losada is an associate scientist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine.