April 2010

Member Spotlight

Corbett Appointed Chairman of Biochemistry

Spotlight---CorbettJohn A. Corbett has been appointed chairman and professor of biochemistry at The Medical College of Wisconsin. Prior to his appointment, Corbett was at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, where he was the Nancy R. and Eugene C. Gwaltney family-endowed chair in juvenile diabetes research as well as a professor of medicine and director of the comprehensive diabetes center.

Corbett’s research is directed at uncovering the mechanisms responsible for diabetes development. His studies are focused on the mechanisms regulating metabolic function and health of insulin-secreting beta cells in the pancreas. Corbett’s laboratory also is engaged in research focused on inflammation and the innate immune responses activated during a viral infection.

Corbett is also a member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry editorial board.

Lefkowitz Wins Frontiers of Knowledge Award

Spotlight---LefkowitzRobert J. Lefkowitz, the James B. Duke professor of medicine and biochemistry at Duke University, has been awarded the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in Biomedicine. According to the foundation, he earned the award “for his discoveries of the seven transmembrane receptors (G protein-coupled receptors), the largest, most versatile and most therapeutically accessible receptor signaling system, and of the general mechanism of their regulation.”

Lefkowitz’s work on G protein-coupled receptors, the largest and most pervasive family of cell receptors, began in 1982 with the identification of the gene for the β-adrenergic receptor, which helps regulate the body’s fight-or-flight response by reacting to epinephrine. Shortly thereafter, he discovered seven additional adrenergic receptors. Those receptors— and all G protein receptors— share a basic structure in which the molecule weaves its way back and forth seven times across a cell’s membrane. When the portion of the molecule that lies outside the cell connects with the receptor’s favored signaling molecule, the internal portions of the molecule can trigger the appropriate cellular response. Lefkowitz is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator.

The BBVA Foundation supports knowledge generation, scientific research and the promotion of culture. Its awards are meant to recognize and encourage world-class research and artistic creation, prizing contributions of broad impact for their originality and theoretical significance.

Frey to Give Hammes Lectureship

Spotlight---FreyPerry A. Frey, professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Institute for Enzyme Research, has been selected to present the second Gordon Hammes American Chemical Society Biochemistry Lecture at the 2010 ACS national meeting in August. The lectureship recognizes an individual who has had a major impact on research at the interface between chemistry and biology, particularly in the realm of biochemistry, biological chemistry, molecular biology and biophysics.

Frey has made numerous contributions to enzymology, including establishing the chemical mechanisms for the reactions catalyzed by uridine diphosphate galactose 4 epimerase and galactose 1 phosphate uridylyltransferase and developing methods for the synthesis of nucleoside pyrophosphorothioates with chiral [18O]-labeled phosphorothioate groups and using these chiral compounds to determine the stereochemical course of enzyme-catalyzed thiophosphoryl transfers. He also carried out important studies on the bond order and charge delocalization at phosphorothioates. And, his studies on the bacterial enzyme lysine 2,3-aminomutase provided critical insight into the mechanism of action of this member of the large radical SAM superfamily of enzymes.

Frey also served on the editorial board for the Journal Biological Chemistry from 1983 to 1988.

Knox Inducted into Missouri Academy

Spotlight---KnoxJames R. Knox, professor emeritus of molecular and cell biology at the University of Connecticut, is one of seven scientists recently inducted into the Missouri University of Science and Technology Academy of Chemistry and Biochemistry.

The academy was established in 2005 to continue the work of the former Foundation for Chemical Research, which was in existence from 1983 through 2005. The foundation worked with the alumni of the Missouri University of Science and Technology chemistry department to support and enhance the research and teaching goals of the department. Members of the academy are scientists who have made outstanding contributions to their profession.

Knox, who received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Missouri-Rolla, specializes in physical biochemistry and molecular biophysics. He has published more than 100 journal articles or book chapters and has given more than 120 invited lectures and talks. Knox also served on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

The other six inductees are Bryan E. Breyfogle, Nuran Ercal, Maciej Gazicki-Lipman, Janet Lynn Kavandi, James Stoffer Jr. and Glenn E. Stoner.

Liao Honored with Two AIChE Institute Awards

Spotlight---LiaoJames C. Liao, chancellor’s professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, received two major American Institute of Chemical Engineers awards. He was honored with the James E. Bailey Award for Outstanding Contributions to the field of biological engineering and the Alpha Chi Sigma Award for Chemical Engineering Research.

The James Bailey Award is given to an individual who embodies the spirit of James Bailey, one who is a pioneer, a mentor, an innovator, an integrator of biology and engineering, a teacher and one who has made a great impact on the field of biological engineering. The Alpha Chi Sigma Award is given for outstanding accomplishments in fundamental or applied chemical engineering research.

“Professor Liao epitomizes the modern chemical engineer who uses the power of microorganisms to do new, creative chemistry of consequence for the chemical and fuels industry,” said Gregory Stephanopoulos of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and chair of the board for the Society for Biological Engineering, a technological community within the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. “His work has demonstrated how microbial biocatalysts can be engineered to catalyze bioconversions for the utilization of renewable resources, a major thrust of metabolic and biological engineering.”

Tzagoloff Garners Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal

Spotlight---TzagoloffAlexander Tzagoloff, Alan H. Kempner professor of biological sciences at Columbia University, has been awarded the Genetics Society of America’s Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime contributions in the field of genetics.

Using yeast as a model system, Tzagoloff has defined the biogenesis and function of the mitochondrial respiratory chain. He was the first to systematically define the nearly 400 nuclear genes (referred to as PET genes) required for respiration in yeast. His work has not only influenced yeast researchers but has also affected research in human disease, apoptosis and cancer genetics. Through the years, he has developed an extensive collection of yeast strains that he has generously shared with colleagues worldwide.

The medal is named after Thomas Hunt Morgan, who received the 1933 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with Drosophila and his “discoveries concerning the role played by the chromosome in heredity.” The GSA established the medal in 1981 to honor this classical geneticist, who was among those who laid the foundation for modern genetics.

Shapiro Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Spotlight---ShapiroLucy Shapiro, director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine at Stanford University, is the recipient of the Abbott-American Society for Microbiology Lifetime Achievement Award. It is ASM’s premier award for sustained contributions to the microbiological sciences.

Shapiro’s three decades of work on Caulobacter cresentus has provided the most thorough understanding of the cell cycle in bacteria. Her research has shown that the cell is an integrated system with transcriptional circuitry that is interwoven with the three-dimensional deployment of key regulatory and morphological proteins. By using cell biology, molecular genetics, genomic analyses and molecular imaging, Shapiro and her co-workers have made significant advances in understanding three fundamental problems: the complete genetic network that controls bacterial cell cycle progression, how a dividing cell can produce two progeny with different cell fates and how subcellular structures are built at specific sites on the cell and at specific times in the cell cycle. Shapiro also discovered two master regulatory proteins, CtrA and GcrA, that are key components of a genetic circuit that drives cell-cycle progression and asymmetric polar morphogenesis in C. cresentus.

Wente Named Vice Chancellor, Senior Associate Dean

Spotlight---WenteSusan Wente has been named associate vice chancellor for research and senior associate dean for biomedical sciences at Vanderbilt University. In her new roles, Wente is working with faculty members to enhance communication and nurture the progress of Vanderbilt’s research enterprise, while continuing her own research and teaching duties.

Wente, who is also professor of cell and developmental biology, studies the mechanisms involved in the highly selective, bidirectional exchange of proteins and RNA between the nucleus and cytoplasm. She uses yeast, cultured human cells and zebrafish model systems to address three broad questions: (1) How are nuclear pore complexes assembled? (2) How do proteins and genetic material move through the nuclear pore complex? And, (3) how does inositol polyphosphate signaling regulate vertebrate development? She and her collaborators have made breakthroughs in understanding the mechanisms of assembly, translocation through and regulation of nuclear pore complexes, as well as the basis of transport-factor interactions with the nuclear pore complex proteins. Lab members also have discovered a nuclear inositol polyphosphate pathway that is required for efficient mRNA export in both yeast and vertebrate cells. This signaling pathway represents a new frontier for regulating gene expression and cell physiology.

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