About nobel laureates

Aaron Ciechanover, M.D., PhD, was born in Haifa, Israel in 1947.  He is currently a Distinguished Research Professor in the Faculty of medicine at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.  He received his M.Sc. (1971) and M.D. (1973) from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.  He then completed his national service (1973-1976) as military physician, and continued his studies to obtain a doctorate in biological sciences in the Faculty of Medicine in the Technion (D.Sc.; 1982).  There, as a graduate student with Dr. Avram Hershko and in collaboration with Dr. Irwin A. Rose from the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, USA, they discovered that covalent attachment of ubiquitin to a target protein signals it for degradation.  They deciphered the mechanism of conjugation, described the general proteolytic functions of the system, and proposed a model according to which this modification serves as a recognition signal for a specific downstream protease.  As a post- doctoral fellow with Dr. Harvey Lodish at the M.I.T., he continued his studies on the ubiquitin system and made additional important discoveries.  Along the years it has become clear that ubiquitin-mediated proteolysis plays major roles in numerous cellular processes, and aberrations in the system underlie the pathogenetic mechanisms of many diseases, among them certain malignancies and neurodegenerative disorders.  Consequently, the system has become an important platform for drug development.  Among the numerous prizes Ciechanover received are the 2000 Albert Lasker Award, the 2002 EMET Prize, the 2003 Israel Prize, and the 2004 Nobel Prize (Chemistry; shared with Drs. Hershko and Rose).  Among many academies, Ciechanover is member of the Israeli National Academy of Sciences and Humanities, The European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Foreign Fellow), the American Philosophical Society, the National Academies of Sciences (NAS) and Medicine (NAM) of the USA (Foreign Associate), the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS; Foreign Member), the Russian Academy of Sciences (Foreign Member), and the German Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina).

Richard J. Roberts, PhD, is the Chief Scientific Officer at New England Biolabs. He was educated in England, attending St. Stephen’s School and the City of Bath Boys’ School in Bath before moving to the University of Sheffield where he obtained a B.Sc. in Chemistry in 1965 and a Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 1968. His postdoctoral research was carried out in Professor J.L. Strominger’s laboratory at Harvard, where he studied the tRNAs that are involved in the biosynthesis of bacterial cell walls. From 1972 to 1992, he worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, reaching the position of Assistant Director for Research under Dr. J.D. Watson. He began work on the newly discovered Type II restriction enzymes in 1972 and in the next few years more than 100 such enzymes were discovered and characterized in Dr. Roberts’ laboratory. His laboratory has cloned the genes for several restriction enzymes and their cognate methylases and studies of these enzymes have been a major research theme. Dr. Roberts has also been involved in studies of Adenovirus-2 beginning with studies of transcription that led to the discovery of split genes and mRNA splicing in 1977. This was followed by efforts to deduce the DNA sequence of the Adenovirus-2 genome and a complete sequence of 35,937 nucleotides was obtained. This latter project required the extensive use of computer methods, both for the assembly of the sequence and its subsequent analysis. His laboratory pioneered the application of computers in this area and the further development of computer methods of protein and nucleic acid sequence analysis continues to be a major research focus. The field of DNA methyltransferases is also an area of active research interest and crystal structures for the HhaI methyltransferase both alone and in complex with DNA have been obtained in collaboration with Dr. X. Cheng. The latter complex is quite remarkable as the protein causes the target cytosine base to flip completely out of the helix so that it is accessible for chemical reaction. This extreme, but elegant, distortion of the double helix had not been seen previously. A major interest at present is the semi-automatic identification of restriction enzyme and methylase genes within the GenBank database and the development of rapid methods to assay function. Already several new specificities have been found and it is clear that there are many more restriction enzyme genes in Nature than had been previously suspected. Most recently, Sir Roberts is one of the leaders of the COMBREX project that is concerned with the functional annotation of prokaryotic genomes.

Thomas Christian Südhof, M.D., PhD, was born in Göttingen, Germany in 1955 and obtained his M.D. and doctoral degrees from the University of Göttingen in 1982. He performed his doctoral thesis work at the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie in Göttingen with Prof. Victor P. Whittaker on the biophysical structure of secretory granules. From 1983 to 1986, Südhof trained as a postdoctoral fellow with Drs. Mike Brown and Joe Goldstein at UT Southwestern in Dallas, TX, and elucidated the structure, expression and cholesterol-dependent regulation of the LDL receptor gene. Südhof began his independent career in 1986 at UT Southwestern, where he stayed until 2008 and, among others, was the founding chair of the Department of Neuroscience. In 2008, Südhof moved to Stanford, and became the Avram Goldstein Professor in the School of Medicine at Stanford University. In addition, Südhof has been an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1986. Prior to becoming a neuroscientist, Südhof was trained in the biophysics of subcellular organelles at the Max-Planck-Institut für biophysikalische Chemie and in cholesterol metabolism at UT Southwestern. When Südhof started his laboratory, he decided to switch to neuroscience to study synapses because of their central, as yet incompletely understood role in brain function. Südhof’s work initially focused on the mechanism of neurotransmitter release, which is the first step in synaptic transmission that accounts for the speed and precision of information transfer in the brain. It was for this work that Südhof was awarded in 2013 the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (with Richard Scheller) and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with James Rothman and Randy Schekman). In the last decade, Südhof’s research emphasis has switched to focus on a different unsolved problem in neuroscience that regards synapses, namely how synapses are established specifically between defined pre- and postsynaptic neurons, and how such connections are endowed with specific properties by these neurons. Addressing this fundamental question is essential for understanding how circuits are wired and how they process information, but the basic rules that govern synapse formation and specification are only now beginning to emerge. Elucidating these rules is the goal of Südhof’s present work.

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Published: June 21st, 2022;

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