February 2011

Axel T. Brunger wins inaugural ASBMB DeLano Award

Stanford University professor Axel T. Brunger has been named the winner of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s inaugural DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences.

“While I feel greatly honored to receive the inaugural DeLano award, this is also a bittersweet moment because we have lost such a great young talent. By making his developments readily accessible, Warren had such a broad impact in the biological sciences. It is fitting that ASBMB and the Warren DeLano Memorial Fund have established this award to honor his memory.”

Stanford University professorAxel T. Brunger has been named the winner of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s inaugural DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences.

The award was established to honor those who create accessible and innovative developments or applications of computer technology to enhance research in the life sciences at the molecular level. Nominees’ contributions must promote (a) more productive use of computers to accelerate and facilitate research and (b) ready access of those programs for the scientific community.

“Axel was the principal designer of CNS, which for over a decade has been the standard refinement program used by the structural (biology) community,” said James A.Wells of the University of California, San Francisco, one of Brunger’s nominators. “He has clearly made enormous contributions to structural biology by defining, developing and automating crystallographic refinement methods.”

Established this year, the computational award aims to honor the legacy of the late Warren L. DeLano, a scientist and entrepreneur who promoted open-source technology and believed in making his programs and source code freely available to users and enabling researchers to build on his developments. While a graduate student, DeLano created PyMOL, an open-source tool for visualizing the three-dimensional structures of proteins and other biological molecules.

Wells credits Brunger, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, for being a great mentor to DeLano, who died unexpectedly in November 2009 at age 37.

About the Award

The DeLano Award for Computational Biosciences consists of a plaque, a $3,000 cash award and travel expenses to present a lecture at the ASBMB annual meeting. Brunger will present his award lecture, titled “Towards Structural Biology with Single Molecules” at 9:03 a.m. on April 13 at the 2011 annual meeting in Washington, D.C.

You can view award presentations from the 2010 ASBMB annual meeting in our archive.

“Working with Axel as an undergraduate at Yale University was Warren’s inspiration for devoting his own life to computational biosciences. Warren joined my lab as a graduate student, where he combined both wet lab and computational methods to understand promiscuous protein-protein binding partners,” Wells said. “But it was Axel’s dedicated mentoring and science that launched him and, I feel, ultimately was responsible for Warren developing PyMOL.”

John Kuriyan, chancellor’s professor in the departments of molecular and cell biology and chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley, also supported Brunger’s nomination for the award. He had this to say about his longtime associate: “Axel is the foremost computational biologist working at the interface between X-ray crystallography, computation and biology. In addition, he is an outstanding structural biologist working on problems in vesicle fusion in neurobiology. I can think of no person better suited for this inaugural award.”

Please feel free to send a congratulatory email to Axel Brunger or leave him a note in the comment space below.

Angela Hopp (ahopp@asbmb.org) is managing editor for special projects at ASBMB.

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