Genetics Society of America selects five geneticists to receive society's 2014 awards

January 29th, 2014
January 29, 2014 – The Genetics Society of America (GSA) is pleased to announce its 2014 Award Recipients. The five individuals honored are recognized by their peers for outstanding achievements and contributions to the genetics community.

"The 2014 GSA award winners are impressive scientists who collectively have positively influenced the field of genetics in research, in education, and in fostering the genetics community," said GSA President Vicki Chandler, PhD. "These awards provide an annual opportunity for the genetics community to recognize those individuals whose superb achievements have advanced the science of genetics. On behalf of GSA, I thank each of the award winners for a lasting contribution to the field."

The award recipients, who will receive their awards at GSA conferences during 2014, are:

Frederick M. Ausubel, PhD (Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital) has been awarded the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime contributions to the field of genetics.

Angelika B. Amon, PhD (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) has been awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to the field of genetics during the past 15 years.

Hugo J. Bellen, DVM, PhD (Baylor College of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) has been awarded the George W. Beadle Award for outstanding contributions to the community of genetics researchers.

Charles Boone, PhD (University of Toronto) has been awarded the Edward Novitski Prize, which recognizes an extraordinary level of creativity and intellectual ingenuity in solving significant problems in genetics research.

Robin Wright, PhD (University of Minnesota) has been awarded the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education, which recognizes significant and sustained impact in genetics education.

Additional background about each of the awards and recipients is listed below (alphabetical order):

Recipient: Angelika B. Amon, PhD, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Award: Genetics Society of America Medal

Dr. Amon has uncovered key biological principles governing the cell cycle. Her work as served as a guide to scientists who study questions related controlling mitotic and meiotic cell divisions. She was the first to demonstrate a connection between the physical completion of anaphase and the initiation of mitotic exit, which is key to understanding basic cellular processes. More recently, her research has focused on the genetic consequences of aneuploidy, cells with too few or too many chromosomes, as it relates to stress responses and cancer. Although her lab primary uses yeast as a model organism, she has also studied trisomy in the mouse as a model of aneuploidy in mammals. She is well-known for being passionate about the importance of model organism research and for being an excellent mentor.

Dr. Amon is the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor of Cancer Research at the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). She is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in 2010, and is the recipient of the Ira Herskowitz Award from GSA's yeast genetics community (2012), NAS Award in Molecular Biology (2008), the Paul Marks Prize for Cancer Research (2007), the Alan T. Waterman Award from the National Science Foundation (2003), the Eli Lilly Young Investigator Award (2003), and the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (1999). She is active in community service, with roles on several journal editorial boards, scientific advisory boards, and review committees.

The Genetics Society of America Medal, established in 1981, is awarded to an individual for outstanding contributions to the field of genetics in the last 15 years. Recipients of the GSA Medal are recognized for elegant and highly-meaningful contributions to modern genetics, and exemplify the ingenuity of GSA membership.

Recipient: Frederick M. Ausubel, PhD, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital

Award: Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal

Dr. Ausubel is Professor of Genetics, Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School, and is the Karl Winnacker Distinguished Investigator in the Department of Molecular Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital.

During his 40-year career, Dr. Ausubel's work has centered on host-microbe interactions and host innate immunity. He is widely recognized as a key scientist responsible for establishing the modern post-recombinant DNA field of host-microbe interactions using simple non-vertebrate hosts. He has used genetic approaches to conduct pioneering work that spawned six related areas of research: the evolution and regulation of Rhizobium genes involved in symbiotic nitrogen fixation; the regulation of Rhizobium genes by two-component regulatory systems involving histidine kinases; establishing Arabidopsis thaliana as a world-wide model system; identifying a large family of plant disease resistance genes; identifying so-called multi-host bacterial pathogens; and demonstrating that Caenorhabditis elegans has an evolutionarily conserved innate immune system that shares features of both plant and mammalian immunity.

His early work with Klebsiella pneumonia and Rhizobium meliloti brought discoveries about key regulatory networks in free-living and symbiotic nitrogen fixing bacteria and the genes that symbiotic bacteria use to interact with their hosts. He also applied genetic analysis to the host side of microbial plant and microbial animal interactions, using Arabidopsis and C. elegans to define fundamental immune defense mechanisms, ultimately fathering scientific research fields that have grown to hundreds of independent research groups. Ausubel's findings support the hypothesis that key features of host-defense responses, and the offensive strategies pathogenic microbes use, have ancient origins.

He has been an author on over 300 publications, has trained over 30 graduate students and 70 postdoctoral researchers, spawning a highly-successful scientific lineage.

Dr. Ausubel is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Academy of Microbiology. He currently holds an NIH MERIT Award, has served on the editorial boards of fourteen journals, numerous advisory boards, and has edited a popular manual detailing protocols in molecular biology.

The Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal is awarded to an individual GSA member for lifetime achievement in the field of genetics. It recognizes the full body of work of an exceptional geneticist. The Medal was established by GSA in 1981 and named in honor of Thomas Hunt Morgan (1866), a 1933 Nobel Prize laureate for his work with Drosophila chromosomes and their role in heredity.

Recipient: Hugo J. Bellen, DVM, PhD, Baylor College of Medicine and Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Award: George W. Beadle Award

Dr. Bellen holds positions as the Charles Darwin Professor in Genetics and the March of Dimes Chair in Developmental Biology, Departments of Molecular and Human Genetics and Neuroscience, and he is also Director of the Graduate Program in Developmental Biology at the Baylor College of Medicine and an HHMI Investigator.

Dr. Bellen has made seminal contributions to the fields of genetics, developmental biology, and neuroscience through a steady stream of insightful experiments in Drosophila.

His lab has addressed fundamental questions regarding genes involved in neuronal development, neurotransmission, and most recently the mechanistic basis for neurological diseases such as ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease). In parallel with this landmark science, he has worked to expand the toolbox available to Drosophila genetics. Bellen is a leading scientist in the Drosophila Gene Disruption Project effort to disrupt and tag Drosophila genes on a comprehensive scale, an effort initiated with previous Beadle Award winners Gerry Rubin and Allan Spradling. Moreover, his laboratory developed simple mapping methods, introduced in collaboration with Koen Venken a highly versatile transgene system named P[acman], created genomic P[acman] libraries covering the whole fly genome, generated in collaboration with Thom Kaufman a library of transgenic flies with molecularly defined duplications covering more than 95% of the X chromosome, developed the MiMIC transposable element, and created a library of 6,000 MiMIC strains that permits manipulations of most fly genes. These efforts have provided ~15,000 new stocks with single transposable element insertions, which enable mutational analysis of ~75% of Drosophila genes. These technologies, now used by the majority of Drosophila labs, have advanced almost all fields of biology. From technological innovations to development biology and neurodegeneration, as well as the training of more than 60 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows (the majority of whom hold faculty positions), the breadth of Bellen's influence on the genetics community is extensive.

A longtime member of GSA, Dr. Bellen's presence in the community is broad and deep. He has participated in review panels, editorial boards, numerous curriculum development boards and task forces, has authored over 200 publications, books, chapters, and has presented his work in countless seminars and symposia.

The George W. Beadle Award, established by GSA in 1999, honors individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the community of genetics researchers and who exemplify the qualities of its namesake as a respected academic, administrator, and public servant. Beadle (1903) served as the President of GSA in 1946; he was awarded the 1958 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with Edward L. Tatum in discovering that genes act by regulating definite chemical events.

Recipient: Charles Boone, PhD, University of Toronto

Award: Edward Novitski Prize

Dr. Boone is Professor and Canada Research Chair at the University of Toronto's Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and Department of Molecular Genetics, and has risen to the top of the emergent discipline of post-genome systems biology. His visionary, creative approach to science has focused on the global mapping of genetic interaction networks. Dr. Boone invented the Synthetic Genetic Array (SGA) technology, transforming the field of yeast genetics. SGA provides an automated method to both cross thousands of specific strains carrying precise mutations and map large-scale yeast genetic interactions. These network maps offer researchers a functional wiring diagram of the cell, which clusters genes into specific pathways and reveals functional connections. His innovative method provides insight into difficult human genetic problems, including the origin of complex inherited disease and phenotypes, and it has catalyzed work in labs worldwide.

Dr. Boone serves on the editorial boards of both GENETICS and G3: Genes|Genomes|Genetics. He is also an HHMI international research scholar; a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research; and holds the Tanenbaum Chair in Molecular Medicine at the University of Toronto. Dr. Boone previously received the Ira Herskowitz Award from GSA's yeast genetics community.

The Edward Novitski Prize recognizes an extraordinary level of creativity and intellectual ingenuity in the solution of significant problems in genetics research. The award recognizes scientific achievement that stands out from the body of innovative work, that is deeply impressive to creative masters in the field, and that solves a difficult problem in genetics. It recognizes the beautiful and intellectually ingenious experimental design and execution involved in genetics scientific discovery.

The Prize was established in 2007 by the Novitski family and GSA to honor the memory of Edward Novitski (1918), a Drosophila geneticist and lifelong GSA member, who specialized in chromosome mechanics and elucidating meioisis through the construction of modified chromosomes.

Recipient: Robin Wright, PhD, University of Minnesota

Award: Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education

Dr. Wright is a Professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development, and Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs in the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota. Her research focuses on work for exploring the genetics, molecular and cellular biology, and physiology of cold adaptation in yeast.

Consistent with her philosophy of linking research and education, Wright includes undergraduate students in all of her research. She seeks to teach how to think like and to actually be a biologist, working in teams and looking at real-world problems. This active approach to learning has taken off at the University of Minnesota, and has other universities looking to Wright for guidance. She emphasizes a learner-centered model of classroom work that promotes and enhances lifelong skills, and is described as having "transformed biological education at the University of Minnesota" through several efforts including developing the interactive, stimulating Foundations of Biology course sequence, emphasizing active learning and open-ended research; spearheading the construction of Active Learning Classrooms; and establishing Student Learning Outcomes, standards that measure biology education. She serves as founding Editor-in-Chief of CourseSource, focusing national effort to collect learner-centered, outcomes-based teaching resources in undergraduate biology.

She has held roles on the Advisory Committee for the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences and National Science Foundation Vision and Change Initiative (2013), Senior Editor for CBE–Life Sciences Education, the steering committee for the National Academies–HHMI Summer Institutes on Undergraduate Education in Biology, as well as countless other course design teams and committees. She is an active member of GSA, having previously served as Education Committee Chair and contributing editor for the popular "Ask the Abbot" advice column in the GSA Newsletter.

Dr. Wright is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a National Academies of Science Education Mentor in the Life Sciences. She received the University of Washington's Distinguished Teaching Award in 2000.

The Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education recognizes significant and sustained impact on genetics education. Recipients of award have promoted greater exposure to and deeper understanding of genetics through distinguished teaching or mentoring, development of innovative pedagogical approaches or tools, design of new courses or curricula, national leadership, and/or public engagement and outreach.

The award was named posthumously for Elizabeth W. Jones (1939), the recipient of the first GSA Excellence in Education Award in 2007. She was a renowned geneticist and educator who served as the 1987 GSA president and as Editor-in-Chief of GSA's journal GENETICS for almost 12 years (1996).

Provided by Genetics Society of America

This Phys.org Science News Wire page contains a press release issued by an organization mentioned above and is provided to you “as is” with little or no review from Phys.Org staff.

More news stories

A nanosized hydrogen generator

(Phys.org) —Researchers at the US Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have created a small scale "hydrogen generator" that uses light and a two-dimensional graphene platform to boost ...

Scientists discover an on/off switch for aging cells

(Medical Xpress)—Scientists at the Salk Institute have discovered an on-and-off "switch" in cells that may hold the key to healthy aging. This switch points to a way to encourage healthy cells to keep dividing ...

Wireless sensor transmits tumor pressure

The interstitial pressure inside a tumor is often remarkably high compared to normal tissues and is thought to impede the delivery of chemotherapeutic agents as well as decrease the effectiveness of radiation ...