Award

Dixon recognized for his research and leadership

UCSC scientist won the ASBMB's 2015 Earl and Thressa Stadtman Distinguished Scientist Award
Aditi Dubey
By Aditi Dubey
March 01, 2015

Jack E. Dixon at the University of California, San Diego, won the Earl and Thressa Stadtman Distinguished Scientist Award from the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in recognition of his work on eukaryotic signal transduction and, in particular, reversible phosphorylation.

Dixon has made several seminal contributions toward understanding enzymes that remove phosphate from proteins (phosphatases) through his work characterizing several members of the protein-tyrosine phosphatases, or PTPases, superfamily.

dixon-web.jpg "I am extremely pleased about this honor. Earl and Thressa were role models for me when I was a young scientist. I had the pleasure of knowing them and interacting with them over a number of years. They also trained so many outstanding people. It is just great to be a small part of their legacy. " — JACK E DIXON

“His scientific achievements are outstanding, and he continues to be a powerful advocate for excellence in biochemical and biomedical research,” Minor J. Coon, professor emeritus at the University of Michigan Medical School, wrote in his nomination letter.

Dixon was born in Nashville and received his B.A. in zoology from University of California, Los Angeles, in 1966. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in chemistry from University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1971. He completed his postdoctoral training in biochemistry as a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Nathan O. Kaplan at UCSD. He then began his career as a faculty member at Purdue University, where he discovered the first dual-specificity phosphatase VH1, encoded by Vaccinia virus. He also showed that the virulence plasmid of Yersinia pestis produces the most active PTPase ever described, in that it drastically affects the host’s immune defenses and results in the pathogenicity of these bacteria.

With these key discoveries, Dixon quickly established himself as an expert in the field. He went on to define several members of this new family of phosphatases and discovered a novel mechanism of their catalytic action. His work is considered to have, as Coon said, “radically advanced the molecular basis of pathogenesis.”

Among Dixon’s recent notable discoveries are the identification of PTEN tumor suppressor as a phosphoinositide phosphate and myotubularin — a protein mutated in muscle myopathies. He also has identified novel covalent post-translational modifications, such as hydroxylation, and O-linked glycosylation of peptide hormones. His laboratory continues to pursue key questions on cell growth and differentiation through a comprehensive study of PTPases.

Scientists mentored by Dixon describe him as a supportive, approachable and encouraging adviser who allows his trainees to develop their projects with freedom while still giving them the requisite guidance and advice. They speak of his investment in their careers and his honest, enthusiastic and collaborative attitude toward scientific discovery.

“I am indebted to Jack for so much of my professional development,” wrote David Pagliarini, assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. “The guidance and mentorship I received from him have truly shaped me as a scientist.”

During his tenure as vice-president and chief scientific officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Dixon was instrumental in developing programs that support young scientists and establishing the open-access policy that allows the work of HHMI researchers to be shared with the scientific community. The HHMI Early Career Scientist Program, the Hughes Collaborative Innovation Awards and a collaboration with the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for plant science research are examples of innovative programs developed under Dixon’s leadership to support scientists and their career paths.

In addition to his role at HHMI, Dixon has served as the president of the ASBMB and is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Institute of Medicine. He is a foreign member of the Royal Society. He has received several awards and fellowships in recognition of his contributions to the research enterprise, including two previous awards from the ASBMB, the William C. Rose Award in 2003 and the ASBMB-Merck Award in 2005.

Earl and Thressa Stadtman, after whom Dixon’s latest ASBMB award is named, were outstanding biochemists and mentors. According to a historical exhibit dedicated to the two scientists at the National Institutes of Health, their laboratories conducted research held to the highest standard of scientific rigor while also fostering a congenial environment for training and mentoring future scientists. The Stadtmans were known to credit junior scientists generously for their ideas and results on publications. Colleagues came to refer to this model of scientific research as “the Stadtman way.” The ASBMB established the award in their names to preserve their legacy and honor basic research scientists who exemplify those qualities.

Earl Stadtman once said: “Productive laboratories are not merely the reflection of good scientific discipline and expert direction but depend almost as much on the establishment of a congenial atmosphere in which science can flourish as a consequence of free thought, unguarded exchange of ideas, critical discussion and a respectful interaction among all of its personnel.”

Aditi Dubey
Aditi Dubey

Aditi Dubey is a postdoctoral associate at New York University.

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in People

People highlights or most popular articles

Glycobiology society honors; NAI inducts Batzer; inspiring Latinx scientists
Member News

Glycobiology society honors; NAI inducts Batzer; inspiring Latinx scientists

September 28, 2020

Honors, promotions, milestones and more. Find out what's going on in the lives of ASBMB members.

Herbert Tabor 1918 – 2020
Retrospective

Herbert Tabor 1918 – 2020

September 24, 2020

F. Peter Guengerich remembers the contributions of the longtime editor of the Journal of Biological Chemistry who died in August.

ASBMB welcomes new members
Member News

ASBMB welcomes new members

September 21, 2020

The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular biology welcomed more than 60 new members in April.

It all comes down to where we place our bets
Interview

It all comes down to where we place our bets

September 18, 2020

Mark Harpel works in a research unit at GlaxoSmithKline that helps choose the most promising targets for new drug development.

Understanding the impact of Type 1 diabetes susceptibility genes
Research Spotlight

Understanding the impact of Type 1 diabetes susceptibility genes

September 17, 2020

Starting in eighth grade, a series of mentors who saw something special in Sharifa Love–Rutledge helped her stay on the path to being a researcher — and becoming a mentor to others.

Cell biology, microbiology societies present awards
Member News

Cell biology, microbiology societies present awards

September 14, 2020

Honorees include ASBMB members Joann Trejo, James Olzmann, Steven Farber, Sue Wickner and Bernard Moss.