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Okafor recognized; Baserga joins group; award for Bollinger

ASBMB Today Staff
Feb. 27, 2023

AAAS, NIH recognize Okafor 

Denise Okafor, a researcher at Pennsylvania State University, was recently selected to receive the 2023 Marion Milligan Mason Award for Women in the Chemical Sciences from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and late last year she won a New Innovator Award from the National Institutes of Health. 

Outdoor portrait of Denise Okafor
Denise Okafor

Okafor is an assistant professor in the departments of biochemistry and molecular biology and chemistry at Penn State, where her lab explores structural mechanisms of signaling and regulation in protein complexes. She and her team use simulations to determine how conformational dynamics of proteins change in various functional states. She is especially drawn to the study of nuclear receptors, with their complex regulatory mechanisms.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Emory University School of Medicine, Okafor used molecular dynamics simulations to study ligand regulation and functional evolution in nuclear receptors.

The AAAS award is named for Marion Tuttle Milligan Mason, who aimed to support the advancement of women in the chemical sciences and honor her family's commitment to higher education for women. Endowed by her estate, the Mason award is granted every two years to four or five women at the start of their academic research careers, giving each scientist $55,000 to support their basic research in the chemical sciences.

The 2022 New Innovator Award supports early-career investigators who propose innovative, high-impact projects in the biomedical, behavioral or social sciences that relate to the NIH mission. Some 70 researchers around the country were selected in 2022. The $1.5 million multiyear award will fund Okafor’s project, Improving Drug Design to Eliminate Side Effects: From Computational to Animal Models.

Baserga joins NASEM RNA modifications group

Susan Baserga, a professor at Yale University, is helping advise the U.S. government on direct sequencing of modifications in RNA.

portrait of Susan Barserga
Susan Baserga

Baserga has been named to a new committee, Towards Sequencing and Mapping of RNA Modifications. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, or NASEM, launched the group last year to assess current techniques and goals for the direct sequencing of RNA modifications.

The committee will evaluate scientific and technological discoveries, and related infrastructure and workforce needs to better understand the roles RNA changes play in human health and disease. The group aims to produce a report with recommendations for decision makers. 

Baserga chairs the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Women in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Committee and was a member of the Public Affairs Advisory Committee for 6 years. She received the society’s William C. Rose Award in 2016.

Baserga is a professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry and of genetics and of therapeutic radiology at Yale. In her laboratory, she studies ribosome biogenesis, the nucleolus, human diseases linked to ribosomes, known as ribosomopathies, and the impact of ribosome biogenesis on cell growth, cell division and cancer. 

Bollinger receives Abeles and Jencks Award 

This year’s Abeles and Jencks Award for the Chemistry of Biological Processes goes to J. Martin Bollinger, Jr. a professor at the Pennsylvania State University Eberly College of Science.

portrait of Martin Bollinger
Martin Bollinger

Administered by the Division of Biological Chemistry of the American Chemical Society, the award was created in 2022 to honor Robert Abeles and William Jencks, trail-blazing researchers in biochemistry. Bollinger is only the second recipient. The first was Karen Allen, also a member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

Bollinger is a professor in the departments of chemistry and biochemistry and molecular biology at Penn State, where he helped assemble a renowned bioinorganic chemistry group. He credits his laboratory co-director, Carsten Krebs, and their students, postdocs and collaborators of two decades for the recent honor. Bollinger and Krebs, a professor of chemistry and of biochemistry and molecular biology, study how enzymes use metal ions and to catalyze reactions involving oxygen.

“The science in which I have been involved has always been a team effort, and all credit for this honor goes to the team,” Bollinger said in an article on the Penn State website

He has received numerous recognitions throughout his career, including the ASBMB’s William C. Rose Award in 2022, the Society of Biological Inorganic Chemistry Early Career Award in 2008, the Searle Scholar Award in 1996, and the Camille and Henry Dreyfus New Faculty Award in 1995. In 2010, he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Bollinger will receive the Abeles and Jencks Award, which consists of a $6,000 honorarium and a medal, at the ACS National Meeting scheduled for August in San Francisco.

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