Germain and Koonin Elected to NAS
Ronald Germain and Eugene Koonin have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for 2016. They join the more than 40 active NIH scientists in this prestigious academy (http://irp.nih.gov/about-us/honors/the-national-academy-of-sciences-and-...). They each gave a lecture at a June 8 minisymposium honoring their election to the NAS. The minisymposium was also videocast (http://videocast.nih.gov/launch.asp?19738).
Germain is an NIH Distinguished Investigator in the NIAID Lymphocyte Biology Section, where he studies basic aspects of innate and adaptive immune function, with an emphasis on the biochemical mechanisms involved in discrimination between self and foreign peptide-associated major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules by T cells as well as on T-cell antigen-presenting cell interactions and the subsequent delivery-of-effector function. Germain was elected to the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, in 2013. For more on Germain’s work, go to http://irp.nih.gov/pi/ronald-germain.
Koonin is a senior investigator in the NLM NCBI Evolutionary Genomics Research Group. He performs research in many areas of evolutionary genomics and takes advantage of the advances of comparative genomics and systems biology to address fundamental problems in evolutionary biology. Koonin hypothesized in 2005 that “spacer DNA” in the clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) loci of bacteria and archaea, which matched sequences of bacteriophages, could be a key part of a sort of adaptive immune system. His work in helping usher in the CRISPR era was featured in the January-February 2016 issue of the NIH Catalyst (http://irp.nih.gov/catalyst/v24i1/genome-editing). For more on Koonin’s research, go to http://irp.nih.gov/pi/eugene-koonin.
Leonard and Lichten Elected to “Older” AAAS
Warren Leonard and Michael Lichten have been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Founded in 1780, the AAAS is one of the nation’s oldest learned societies and independent policy-research center and convenes leaders from the academic, business, and government sectors to address critical challenges facing our global society (https://www.amacad.org/contentu.aspx?i=7).
Leonard, an NIH Distinguished Investigator in the NHLBI Laboratory of Molecular Immunology, applies a broad range of methodologies to both human cells and mouse models and relies on the continual interplay between basic research, which teases apart the signaling mechanisms that underlie normal immune-cell development, and the study of primary human cells and mouse models. His laboratory has discovered multiple specific forms of immunodeficiency including those caused by mutations in the genes encoding the intracellular signaling molecule Janus kinase 3. For more about Leonard’s work, go to http://irp.nih.gov/pi/warren-leonard.
Lichten is a senior investigator in the NCI Laboratory of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He uses budding yeast as a model system to study homologous recombination and chromosome structural changes that occur during meiosis. Recombination and its crossover products are essential for proper chromosome segregation during meiosis. Chromosome mis-segregation, caused by defects in meiotic recombination, leads to chromosome imbalance in gametes. These chromosome imbalances are a leading cause of infertility and birth defects in humans. Lichten’s lab aims to describe the molecular steps of meiotic recombination and how they are regulated in parallel with changes in chromosome structure and with cell-cycle transitions that occur during meiosis. For more about Lichten’s work, go to http://irp.nih.gov/pi/michael-lichten.
Allen Wilcox Named Finalist for Service to America Medal
BY ROBIN ARNETTE, NIEHS
NIEHS epidemiologist Allen Wilcox is one of 32 federal employees named as finalists for the 2016 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, in recognition of his “pioneering the epidemiologic study of human reproduction, fundamentally changing both scientific and public understanding of fertility and pregnancy.”
Also known as the Sammies, the medals are considered the Oscars of government service because of the rigorous selection process. Wilcox and the other finalists were honored at a reception May 3 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., and winners will be announced at a black-tie gala on September 20.
Wilcox, a senior investigator and head of the NIEHS Reproductive Epidemiology Group, focuses on how environmental exposures affect human reproduction. His research determined that one-quarter of pregnancies are lost before women know they are pregnant. An interest in birth defects led to his discovery that environmental factors, such as low folic acid and other vitamin deficiencies, cause facial clefts in newborns. Wilcox and his team developed a method to assess human fertility based on women’s time to pregnancy and showed that maternal smoking reduces fertility. This approach is now widely used by environmental epidemiologists to identify other factors that damage fertility.
For more about Wilcox’s work, go to http://irp.nih.gov/pi/allen-wilcox.
To watch a short video in which he discusses how the environment affects fertility, pregnancy, and childhood development, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J6XqDRdGScY.