Published September 01 2016

Protein Society award winners

Xu Craik Garcia

The Protein Society, a scholarly organization dedicated to promoting the study of protein structure, function and design, honored three American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology members with awards this past July at its 30th annual symposium.

H. Eric Xu, distinguished director at the VARI–SIMM Research Center, was the recipient of the Hans Neurath Award, which is sponsored by the Hans Neurath Foundation. The award recognizes novel contributions to basic protein research and honors the legacy of Hans Neurath, a prominent protein chemist. Xu had two research papers on plant hormones honored as top-10 breakthroughs by the journal Science in 2009 and by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2014. A recent paper from Xu’s group on the first X-ray laser structure of a complex between a G-protein–coupled receptor and an arrestin complex also was recognized by Chinese Academy of Sciences this year as a top-10 breakthrough.

Charles Craik, a pharmaceutical chemist who is also the director of the chemistry and chemical biology graduate program at the University of California, San Francisco, received the Emil Thomas Kaiser Award. The award is given to a scientist who recently has made a signification contribution to the study of proteins in applying chemistry. Craik and his students explore the chemical biology of proteolytic enzymes, their receptors and their natural inhibitors. His research efforts toward understanding these proteins have aided in the rapid detection and treatment of infectious disease and cancer. Craik is also the founder of Catalyst Biosciences, a biotechnology company focused on protease therapeutic agents.

Benjamin Garcia, presidential associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, was honored with the Young Investigator Award. This award recognizes a young scientist in the first eight years of his or her independent career who has made significant contribution to protein research. Garcia’s research interests lie in the development and application of quantitative mass spectrometry-based proteomics as a means for understanding the dynamic proteome and protein post-translational modifications.


Charpentier and Doudna win Tang Prize

Two ASBMB members, Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna, along with Feng Zhang, are being honored with the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Sciences. Established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur and philanthropist Samuel Yin, the Tang Prize honors the outstanding achievements of individuals in four areas: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and the rule of law.

Charpentier and Doudna have been recognized for developing a novel genome editing technology known as CRISPR/Cas9. This tool is revolutionizing the life sciences by allowing researchers efficiently and accurately to modify DNA. Their new technology has the potential to address a host of problems, such as repairing defective genes and treating various genetic illnesses.


Charpentier is the director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology and was awarded an Alexander von Humboldt professorship in 2014. She is one of the co-founders of CRISPR Therapeutics, a biotechnology company that uses this new technology to treat genetic diseases.

Doudna is a professor of molecular and cell biology and of chemistry at the University of California, Berkley, where she holds the Li Ka Shing chancellor’s chair in biomedical and health sciences. She is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.


Joan Steitz recognized for teaching

Joan Steitz, the Sterling professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University, has been recognized for her outstanding contributions to teaching with the William Clyde DeVane Medal.

The DeVane Medal honors Yale faculty members for their undergraduate teaching as well as their scholarly achievements. Established in 1966 by Yale’s Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, this award is named in honor of William Clyde Devan, the former dean of Yale College from 1938 to 1963. Steitz was nominated by Yale’s undergraduate Phi Beta Kappa members for her leadership and excellence as an educator.

Renowned in the field of RNA research, Steitz leads a lab at Yale that focuses on the understanding of RNA biology. She is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a recipient of the National Medal of Science. In 2015, the ASBMB recognized her work with RNA with the 2015 Herbert Tabor Research Award.


Wattenberg joins Virginia Commonwealth University

Brian “Binks” Wattenberg joined the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Virginia Commonwealth University in August. Wattenberg previously was an associate professor in the department of medicine at University of Louisville.

Wattenberg’s group studies the regulation of sphingolipid metabolism by the ORMDL family of endoplasmic reticulum proteins. Wattenberg received a Ph.D in biochemistry from Washington University in St. Louis and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University.

By Erik Chaulk


Shilatifard receives award for research excellence

Ali Shilatifard, a biochemist and molecular biologist, has received the Martin E. and Gertrude G. Walder Award for Research Excellence. This award was established to recognize outstanding researchers at Northwestern University, where Shilatifard serves as chairman of the biochemistry and molecular genetics department at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

Shilatifard’s research is based on understanding how epigenetics and transcription malfunction is associated with the pathogenesis of human cancer. More specifically, he and his group want to understand how certain mechanisms can activate or suppress specific patterns of gene expression. Shilatifard also is interested in how inherited or environmental factors can contribute to the development of cancer. To date, Shilatifard’s epigenetic inhibitors are being tested for various forms of cancer, such as brain cancer and childhood leukemia.

By Erik Maradiaga


Freeze is FASEB’s new president

On July 1, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology welcomed its new president, Hudson H. Freeze. Freeze is the director of the human genetics program at the Sanford–Burnham–Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla, California.

Among his priorities during his year as FASEB president is increasing communication with FASEB member societies. The ASBMB is one of the member societies. “One thing is fundamental: FASEB represents scientists. From postdocs to society leaders, I want us to have an open dialogue — scientist to scientist — about how FASEB can better serve its members and the scientific community,” Freeze said in a FASEB press release.

Freeze is a past president of the Society for Glycobiology and its first representative to the FASEB board of directors. He is an ASBMB member and serves on the ASBMB’s Public Outreach Committee.

By Rajendrani Mukhopadhyay