June 2010

Member Spotlight

Spotlight---BondBond Named Evan Pugh Professor

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Past-President Judith S. Bond, distinguished professor and chair of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, has been named Evan Pugh Professor. She and two other Penn State faculty members, Donald C. Hambrick and Thomas Mallouk, join a list of 59 others given the title since its inception in 1960.

According to Penn State, the Evan Pugh professorships, named for the university’s first president, are awarded to faculty members who are “nationally or internationally acknowledged leaders in their fields of research or creative activity; have demonstrated significant leadership in raising the standards of the university with respect to teaching, research or creativity and service and demonstrate excellent teaching skills with undergraduate and graduate students who subsequently have achieved distinction in their field.” The professorships are the highest honor the university bestows on its faculty.

Bond’s research focuses on the structure, function and regulation of proteolytic enzymes called meprins. Her work on wasting diabetic mice led to the discovery of meprins, a subunit of which recently has been identified as a susceptibility factor for inflammatory bowel disease.

Bond was president of ASBMB from 2004 to 2006 and is currently an associate editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Spotlight---FedoroffFedoroff Becomes AAAS President-Elect

Nina V. Fedoroff, science and technology adviser to the U.S. Secretary of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development has been elected to serve as the American Association for the Advancement of Science president in 2011.

Fedoroff, a geneticist and molecular biologist, is a pioneering researcher in the fields of plant genetics, plant responses to environmental stress and genetically modified crops. She has done fundamental research on the molecular biology of plant genes and transposons, as well on the mechanisms plants use to adapt to stressful environments. She published a book in 2004, titled “Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods,” which examines the scientific and societal issues surrounding the introduction of genetically modified crops.

Fedoroff is an Evan Pugh professor at The Pennsylvania State University, and, in 2003, she became a member of the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute. She also was a speaker at the ASBMB annual meeting public affairs symposium in Anaheim this past April.

Spotlight---FarrellFarrell Honored with Dairy Science Award

Harold Farrell of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Eastern Regional Research Center has been honored with the California Dairy Research Foundation’s William C. Haines Dairy Science Award, in recognition of his contribution to the field of dairy science. Farrell, who works as an emeritus research chemist at the Dairy Processing and Products Research Unit at the USDA, received the award at the 12th Cal Poly Dairy Ingredients Symposium in March, where he also gave a presentation on the molecular basis for the structure-function relationships of casein.

Farrell said, “The majority of my scientific career has been spent in fundamental research on milk protein structure-function relationships. In this area, it sometimes is hard to see or predict a clear end point, but a new insight in itself always is exciting. Receiving the Haines Award, which covers a 20-year period, has made me feel as though it has been worth the effort. In essence, this award is a validation of the scientific process and is appreciated greatly.”

Farrell’s research focus has included a variety of programs related to the chemistry of the milk system and the biochemistry of the mammary gland.

Spotlight---GerltGerlt Receives Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award

John Gerlt, the Gutgsell Endowed professor of biochemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, has been selected by the American Chemical Society as one of 10 national candidates to receive an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award.

Gerlt received the award for his research leading to a deeper understanding of how enzymes accelerate a wide range of reactions and develop different mechanisms. His work has included pioneering studies of how enzymes, such as mandelate racemase, abstract protons from extremely weak acids to generate carbanion intermediates. Gerlt and co-workers also suggested that electrophilic catalysis and strong hydrogen bonding were key factors in making such difficult reactions proceed at reasonable rates. These studies have led to a better appreciation for the sophisticated tools enzymes can use to accelerate reactions.

Currently, Gerlt is studying two groups of enzymes that are derived from common ancestors, both of which share the ubiquitous (β/α)8-barrel fold: the members of the enolase superfamily and the members of the orotidine 5’-monophosphate decarboxylase suprafamily.

Photo credit to L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Spotlight---GieraschGierasch Garners Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award

Lila M. Gierasch, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, will receive the Protein Society’s 2010 Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin Award at the society’s annual symposium in August.

According to the Protein Society, the award, sponsored by Genentech, is granted “in recognition of exceptional contributions in protein science, which profoundly influence our understanding of biology.” Gierasch received the award in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the understanding of biology through the application of biophysical methods to interrogate biological systems.

Gierasch’s research has had a major impact on fields spanning sequence-structure relationships, protein folding and aggregation, the pioneering application of novel biophysical analyses, (principally NMR), molecular recognition and cooperativity in molecular machines and protein secretion. Her most recent research focuses on the chaperone-mediated folding process, how a β-sheet “clam” protein is folded and how to monitor protein folding in a living cell and compare it with in vitro folding. 

Spotlight---OrthOrth Wins Award in Chemical Research

Kim Orth, associate professor of molecular biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, was honored with the 2010 Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research for her pioneering work on the mechanisms bacteria use to cause disease.

The Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest sources of private funding for basic research in chemistry, presents the annual award to honor up-and-coming scientists at Texas institutions. Recipients are recognized for expanding the frontiers of chemistry through their innovative research. First bestowed in 2002, the award pays tribute to the late Norman Hackerman, a noted scientist and longtime chairman of the foundation’s scientific advisory board.

Orth has discovered new mechanisms by which invading bacteria hijack and deregulate a cell’s signaling systems, cutting off the cell’s ability to communicate with other immune-system cells that are needed to fight off disease. Her studies also have uncovered previously unknown mechanisms human cells use to carry out normal functions. For example, she discovered that an infectious ocean-dwelling bacterium found in oysters and other shellfish kills its host’s cells by causing them to burst, providing the invader with a nutrient-rich meal that can then be used to fuel proliferation. The invading pathogen overtakes the host’s autophagy machinery, a process that is usually tightly controlled.

Spotlight---MahleyMahley Presented with Advocacy Award

Robert W. Mahley, president emeritus of The J. David Gladstone Institutes, has received Research!America’s 2010 Builders of Science Award. According to Research!America, the award “recognizes his leadership as Gladstone’s founding director and president, guiding its growth to become one of the world’s foremost independent research institutions, known for its groundbreaking basic science and substantial impact on disease prevention.”

In 1979, Mahley was recruited to lead the new Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease. He was instrumental in the creation of the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology in 1992 and the Gladstone Institute of Neurological Disease in 1998. In 2004, Mahley led the institutes’ move to a new, state-of-the-art home at the University of California, San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, enhancing Gladstone’s collaborative, entrepreneurial culture by bringing all three institutes into one building.

Mahley stepped down as Gladstone’s president this past March. He continues to do research on apolipoprotein (apo) E and its role in heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and neurodegeneration. His studies have led to an understanding of the mechanisms by which apoE causes Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Mahley also is a professor of pathology and medicine at the University of California, San Francisco.

In Memoriam: Roy L. Whistler

Roy L. Whistler, emeritus Hillenbrand distinguished professor of biochemistry at Purdue University, died Feb. 7.

Whistler was born in 1912, in Tiffin, Ohio. He attended Heidelberg College, where he received his Bachelor of Science, The Ohio State University, where he earned his Master of Science and Iowa State University, where he received his doctoral degree. He began his professional career at the U.S. National Bureau of Standards (1938 – 1940), then became Head of the Starch Structure Group of the United States Department of Agriculture Northern Regional Research Laboratory at Peoria, Ill. (1940 – 1945), before coming to Purdue University.

Whistler contributed to many aspects of carbohydrate chemistry but was best known for his pioneering research on polysaccharides and for promoting their industrial application. For example, he foresaw the industrial potential of the guar plant, promoted it as a new commercial crop, determined the structure of the main constituent of guar gum and was instrumental in the development of the guar gum industry. He also perceived the industrial potential of starch amylase, and, with H. H. Kramer, a corn geneticist at Purdue, developed the first high-amylose corn, also now a valuable commercial crop.

The Roy L. Whistler Award of the International Carbohydrate Organization and the Whistler Center for Carbohydrate Research at Purdue University are named in his honor.

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