The DNA of a
Nobel Prize-worthy CV

Published October 03 2016

Sancar flanked by Steven McKnight of UT Southwestern (left) and Natalie Ahn from the University of Colorado, Boulder (right).

Aziz Sancar at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine received part of the 2015 Nobel Prize in chemistry. He, along with Tomas Lindahl at the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory in the U.K. and Paul Modrich at the Duke University School of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, won the prize “for mechanistic studies of DNA repair,” according to the Nobel Prize 2015 press release. Sancar earned a third of the prize for his work on the nucleotide excision repair pathway.

Sancar is an editorial board member for the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which is published by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has co-authored more than 80 papers in the JBC.

Sancar spoke with the ASBMB’s print and digital media specialist, Allison Frick, at the 2016 ASBMB annual meeting in San Diego. Here’s what Sancar had to say about the meeting and the JBC and his advice for early-career scientists who are trying to publish their work and stand out in the fiercely competitive area of biomedical research. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. The entire interview can be found online at

What do you like about the ASBMB meeting? What draws you to it?

You get to meet old friends, people who review your papers and other members of the editorial board. One of the most exciting parts is interacting with students and young scientists who ask for guidance (and) advice.

What or who would you consider to be the most significant influences on your success as a scientist?

My parents instilled in me a very strong work ethic. My father was the strongest, hardest working man I’ve ever known. Stan Rupert, my Ph.D. adviser (at the University of Texas at Dallas), has had the … strongest influence throughout my career. He was a great mentor, and he kept up with my research after I became an independent investigator. He has been my role model.

Sancar gave a lecture at this year’s ASBMB annual meeting after winning the Bert and Natalie Vallee Award in Biomedical Science.

You publish consistently in the JBC and currently serve on its editorial board. What about the journal inspires your loyalty and service?

When I was a graduate student and postdoc, publishing in the JBC was a dream. My first really important study as an independent investigator was published in the JBC, and I’ve continued ever since. I have more papers in the JBC than in any other journals.

I think I am probably, of my generation, the only one in biological sciences who’s gotten the Nobel prize for work published in the JBC and I’m very proud of that. I think this should be an example to young investigators who are obsessed with publishing in this or that journal.

What advice would you have for scientists who are thinking about submitting their work to the JBC?

I would say publish your best work in the JBC, because it has a vast editorial board. We have reviewers who cover the entire field of biochemistry and molecular biology. You cannot find that in any other journal. You’re sure that your paper will get good reviews by people knowledgeable in your field. You don’t always get it in other journals, so I think that’s a major advantage of the JBC. You get a decision within three weeks, usually. If there are things to fix, you fix them, and it’s processed rapidly. The JBC is like the New York Times of (scientific) publishing.

You have many commitments. How do you balance everything?

Work hard is No. 1. There are no shortcuts. Secondly, to the extent that it’s possible, pick an important subject to work on. I always tell my students and postdocs you should ask yourself every single day: “Is work I’m doing going to end up being a sentence in a biochemistry textbook?” You should always ask yourself that, because that’s the criterion of the significance of the work you’re doing. Don’t get sidetracked with minutia. Finally, it’s really important to have supportive and nurturing mentors.

Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share?

I can’t thank the ASBMB and the JBC enough. The JBC made my career, and the JBC got me the Nobel prize. I think the JBC enabled me to publish my work and disseminate research to the scientific community in a timely manner. Over the long period, (our work) was recognized by the scientific community as well as other organizations like the Nobel (prize committee).

Allison Frick Allison Frick is the ASBMB’s print and digital media specialist.