Four HHMI scientists are among those honored by the prestigious Royal Society.
Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigators Linda Buck, John Kuriyan, and Susan Lindquist, and HHMI Senior International Research Scholar Natalie Strynadka have been elected to 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, 47 fellows and 10 foreign members were elected.
“Science and its application are at the core of so many aspects of our modern lives. From treating infectious diseases, to building safe bridges and tunnels, searching out life on other planets and even vacuuming our living rooms, science helps us understand ourselves better and it makes life better,” said Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society and an HHMI Trustee. “Without scientific knowledge, we might not be able to solve some of the greatest challenges of our time: food shortages, climate change and tackling diseases. The scientists elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society this year are leaders in their fields and have contributed much to the scientific endeavor. We are delighted to welcome them alongside the likes of great British scientist such as Newton, Boyle and Darwin.”
Linda Buck’s research has transformed the field of odorant perception through the cloning of mammalian olfactory receptors. Together with Richard Axel, Buck developed an ingenious method to identify a G protein-coupled odorant receptor family of unprecedented size, comprising up to 1000 distinct genes members. Buck then used olfactory receptor genes as molecular tools to gain insight into the mechanisms and organizations strategies underlying odor perception. Her work showed that the olfactory epithelium is comprised of spatial zones that express different sets of receptor genes and that each zone is a mosaic of randomly interspersed neurons expressing different receptors. Buck then showed that individual olfactory neurons express a single receptor gene. In later work, Buck has documented the organization of olfactory axonal projections into the brain. Buck’s work has been recognized by award of the 2004 Nobel Prize.
John Kuriyan has made fundamental discoveries concerning the structure and mechanism of the enzymes and molecular switches responsible for cellular signal transduction and DNA replication. Kuriyan's work on protein tyrosine kinases has lead to explanations for how the cancer drug Gleevec achieves specificity, and how the catalytic activity of the epidermal growth factor receptor is activated. Much of our current understanding of how high speed DNA polymerases achieve very high processivity also emanates from Kuriyan's laboratory. Kuriyan is a major contributor to UK Science in both academic and advisory roles.
Susan Lindquist has transformed our understanding of how protein folding shapes biological systems. She has made ground-breaking contributions in genetics, cell biology and biochemistry, using organisms as diverse as fungi, fruit flies, mustard plants, and mammals. She discovered the functions of heat-shock proteins, identified prions as conduits of protein-based inheritance, and pioneered new platforms for neurodegenerative disease. She established the key role of the heat-shock proteins in tumor progression and the evolution of fungal drug resistance. She discovered that protein-folding buffers and releases genetic variation in response to environmental stress, providing the first plausible explanation for rapid bursts of evolution.
Natalie Strynadka is a pioneer in the study of proteins and protein assemblies essential to bacterial pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance. Her agenda-setting dissection of the membrane assemblies involved in infection, virulence and bacterial cell wall synthesis is having major impact in the development of therapeutic agents; both antibiotics and vaccines.