Annual Meeting

Stillman charts the path of genome replication

He’s the winner of the ASBMB’s 2024 Earl and Thressa Stadtman Distinguished Scientist Award
Tian Yu
By Tian Yu
Nov. 15, 2023

Bruce Stillman’s scientific journey began with an intense curiosity about the mysteries of DNA replication, especially in eukaryotes. "When I started my career," he said, "we actually knew almost nothing about how the eukaryotic genome is inherited from one cell to the next."

Stillman, winner of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s 2024 Earl and Thressa Stadtman Distinguished Scientists Award, has explored adenovirus DNA replication and has done pioneering work on the simian virus 40, or SV40, replication system. High-impact discoveries under his guidance include replication protein A, proliferating cell nuclear antigen and replication factor C, which are significant pillars in genome stability research. His investigation into yeast chromosomal replication led to the discovery of the origin recognition complex, a critical initiator of DNA replication in eukaryotic cells.

Bruce Stillman
Bruce Stillman

Over the decades, Stillman’s dedication to basic research hasn't wavered, despite challenges. “It's very difficult to initiate new projects, especially on new species or changing systems like when we moved from adenovirus to SV40 virus, then to yeast to human, and now to other yeasts,” he said. “It's very difficult to do that with (National Institutes of Health) funding because you really have to have a lot of preliminary results to get NIH funding.”

A key facilitator in navigating this challenging terrain was the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Now, president and chief executive officer, Stillman arrived at the lab from Australia in 1979 for an independent postdoc in the U.S.

"Cold Spring Harbor … it's one of the greatest intellectual environments in science," he said. The lab’s private funding offered a launch pad for Stillman’s research ventures, he said, allowing him to delve into uncharted territories.

The future study of DNA replication presents captivating challenges and opportunities, Stillman said. The intricate chromatin regulatory systems governing replication timing invite exploration, as does the enigma of replication localization in species without sequence-specific origins. And Stillman has trained many others who continue the work.

In nominating Stillman for the Stadtman award, John Diffley of the Francis Crick Institute wrote, "Bruce was an early-career mentor of mine … He is an outstanding scientist and an outstanding mentor."

Diving deep into DNA replication

In his presentation at Discover BMB, the ASBMB’s annual meeting in San Antonio in March, Bruce Stillman plans to delve into the process of DNA replication initiation, illuminating our understanding of cellular processes foundational to life.

"We've now gone from knowing virtually nothing to understanding the detailed biochemistry of the process and control of initiation of DNA replication," Stillman said.

Focusing on the evolution and regulation of DNA replication in the cell-division cycle, Stillman will share comparisons among species, particularly in their replication origins.

He will address fundamental questions, from the mechanisms that determine replication origins in various species to understanding how replication interacts with other cellular processes. Only a small number of eukaryotes, such as the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, have sequence-specific origins. All other eukaryotes — including fungi, plants, animals and humans — lack sequence-specific origins.

"The question then is how our origins are determined,” Stillman said. “So, we are now looking, performing evolutionary comparisons by comparing Saccharomyces to other yeasts and human cells. We include structural work, molecular biology and biochemistry to understand the subtle differences, principally to understand how the initiation of replication occurs in all eukaryotes."

2024 ASBMB award winners

Phillips turns parasite’s metabolic weakness into hope for human health
Herbert Tabor Research Award: Margaret Phillips

Ando's pioneering journey: From physics to structural enzymology
Mildred Cohn Young Investigator Award: Nozomi Ando

Stoddard changes mentoring practices in academia
Ruth Kirschstein Diversity in Science Award: Shana Stoddard

For Wolfson, every classroom is a laboratory
ASBMB Sustained Leadership Award: Adele Wolfson

Kennelly considers his fortune of three careers
William C. Rose Award for Exemplary Contributions to Education: Peter Kennelly

Balla leaves no phosphoinositide unturned
Avanti Award in Lipids: Tamas Balla

From virology to immunology, Wu focuses on structure
Bert & Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science: Hao Wu

In failure, Simcox finds a way to learn
Walter A. Shaw Young Investigator in Lipid Research Award: Judith Simcox

Roos’ career pivot to maximize impact
Alice and C.C. Wang Award in Molecular Parasitology: David S. Roos

Enjoy reading ASBMB Today?

Become a member to receive the print edition monthly and the digital edition weekly.

Learn more
Tian Yu

Tian Yu is a molecular biologist and regulatory specialist. Her experience spans life science and medical device product development, along with quality management.

Get the latest from ASBMB Today

Enter your email address, and we’ll send you a weekly email with recent articles, interviews and more.

Latest in People

People highlights or most popular articles

ASBMB inducts new honor society members
Student Chapters

ASBMB inducts new honor society members

April 22, 2024

Chi Omega Lambda, which recognizes exceptional juniors and seniors pursuing degrees in the molecular life sciences, has 31 inductees in 2024.

2024 voter guide
Society News

2024 voter guide

April 18, 2024

Learn about the candidates running for ASBMB Council, Nominating Committee, Publications Committee and treasurer.

Charles O. Rock (1949 – 2023)

Charles O. Rock (1949 – 2023)

April 17, 2024

Colleagues and trainees remember a world expert in membrane lipid homeostasis.

Honors for Clemons, Hatzios and Wiemer
Member News

Honors for Clemons, Hatzios and Wiemer

April 15, 2024

Awards, honors, milestones and more. Find out what's happening in the lives of ASBMB members.

Touching the future from the bench
Research Spotlight

Touching the future from the bench

April 10, 2024

Scholar, scientist, teacher and mentor Odutayo Odunuga discusses the important roles of the institutional PI, his journey and his research.

In memoriam: Darwin Prockop
In Memoriam

In memoriam: Darwin Prockop

April 8, 2024

He held leadership positions at multiple institutions and was known for his contributions to adult stem cell biology and cellular biology.