May 2012

Yan named JBC/Tabor Young Investigator Award winner at biophysics meeting


Shannon Yan received her award from Norma Allewell, a Journal of Biological Chemistry associate editor, at the Biophysical Society's annual meeting in February.

Shannon Yan, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley, won the Young Investigator Award in February at the 56th annual meeting of the Biophysical Society. She was recognized for her work to resolve how the ribosome dynamically translates during frameshifting along a messenger RNA. 

“Universally, across all species, the ribosome long has been known to read three nucleotides as one codon and incorporate one amino acid per translation cycle. Yet there are well-established cases when specific mRNA templates bearing slippery sequence and other frameshift promoting elements effectively induce this high-fidelity machine to switch its translation reading frame and synthesize more than one kind of protein products from a single mRNA. And till this day, the detailed mechanism remains largely unsolved,” Yan says.

Yan earned her bachelor’s in chemistry at the National Taiwan University, where she trained as “a hard-core physical chemist” working in gas phase chemical kinetics and reaction dynamics. “I’ve always found the basic physical principles most intuitive and have enjoyed applying them to explore and explain the unknown systems, in particular the dynamic ones,” she explains. “Later, I realized similar manners and strategies of study can be beautifully generalized to seemingly complicated biological systems, as long as one can focus on the most relevant issue and ask the right question with the right tool.”

Today, in Ignacio Tinoco’s lab, she is working with a reconstituted in vitro translation system and using optical mini-tweezers to monitor real-time translation activity from a single ribosome as it translocates and gradually unwinds an mRNA hairpin. “We hope to visualize exactly how ribosome frameshifts in real time,” she says.

Angela Hopp ( is editor of ASBMB Today.

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