HHMI scientists are among ten newly elected foreign members.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators, Richard Axel, Stephen C. Harrison, and Joan A. Steitz, and HHMI Senior International Research Scholar, Philippe J. Sansonetti, have been elected to foreign membership in the Royal Society in recognition of their exceptional contributions to science.
Fellows and foreign members are elected for contributions to fundamental research as well as for leading scientific and technological progress in industry and research establishments. This year, 50 fellows and 10 foreign members were elected.
“Science helps us to better understand ourselves and the natural world on which we depend. Building scientific knowledge helps us face some of the planet’s biggest challenges such as food shortages, climate change and tackling disease,” said Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and an HHMI trustee. “These scientists who have been elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society have already contributed much to the scientific endeavor, whether that is in academia, industry or government.”
Richard Axel is a distinguished molecular biologist and neuroscientist. He developed gene transfer techniques that permit the introduction of virtually any gene into any cell permitting the production of a large number of clinically important proteins and leading to the isolation of a gene for CD4, the cellular receptor for the AIDS virus, HIV. He then applied molecular biology to neuroscience revealing over a thousand genes involved in the recognition of odours, a discovery for which he shared the Nobel Prize in 2004. He currently explores how odour recognition is translated into internal representations in the brain.
Harrison determined the first structure of an intact virus particle. He has made pioneering contributions to a range of fundamental problems, most notably through his studies of virus structure and the mechanisms of viral entry and assembly, and also through his crystallographic analyses of protein/DNA complexes. In doing so, he has also contributed to major technical advances for the determination of large macromolecular structures.
Joan Steitz is one of the pioneers of the field of RNA biology who is world renowned for her many seminal contributions. She showed how ribosomal RNA is used to initiate translation at the start site of mRNA. She discovered spliceosomes, the particles that are the sites of splicing of pre-messenger RNA into the final mature mRNA and elucidated many of their roles. She discovered that introns, which were thought to be inert, code for sno RNAs that target the modification of other cellular RNAs during their maturation. More recently she has found new roles for microRNAs in gene regulation.
Sansonetti has pioneered the study of molecular pathogenesis of bacterial infections and cellular microbiology, based on his discovery of the mechanism of cell invasion by Shigella. He has led the field practically and conceptually, by discovering key processes relevant to many pathogens and demonstrating the way in which bacteria subvert eukaryotic cells for their growth. These include actin-dependent entry, cell-to-cell spread, pro-inflammatory apoptosis, intracellular sensing of bacteria, regulation of host responses by post-translational modifications, repression of innate immunity genes, and blocking of T-cell migration. Collectively his work has provided the most complete and unified view of a bacterial-controlled disease process.