1998 News Archive

December 1, 1998

Elaine V. Fuchs' Research Featured in November 27 Issue of Science

Under the title "Hairy Mice Offer Hope for Baldness Remedy", the "Focus" article highlights Lainie's work involving over-expression of the beta-catenin gene in mice, published in the November 25 issue of Cell.

December 1, 1998

Daphne K. Preuss, 1997 Searle Scholar, Subject of Latest ASCB Member Profile

The latest edition of The American Society for Cell Biology Newsletter features a profile of Daphne.

October 27, 1998

Sriram Subramaniam, 1993 Searle Scholar, has been appointed Chief of the Biophysics Section of National Cancer Institute's Laboratory of Biochemistry

At the NCI, he is setting up a research program with a focus upon determining the structure of membrane proteins and associated protein complexes. Sriram will retain his affiliation with The Johns Hopkins University as a visiting faculty member. Between now and the summer of 1999, while his labs are under construction, Sriram will be on Sabbatical at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England.

October 23, 1998

Ronald T. Raines (1990) has received the American Chemical Society's Pfizer Award in Enzyme Chemistry for his research on chemical enzymology.

See Chemical & Engineering News, October 19, 1998.

October 23, 1998

Peter G. Schultz (1985) has been elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine.

October 23, 1998

James F. Gusella to receive the 1998 Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievements in Health.

"James F. Gusella, Ph.D., Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and Louis M.Kunkel, Ph.D, Harvard Medical School, Children's Hospital, and a Howard Hughes Investigator, will share the Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Health for developing strategies to localize and characterize genes that cause neurological disorders. Anthony Alvarado, former superintendent of Community School District 2 in New York City, will receive the Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education for commitment to the continuous professional development of teachers and the increased improvement of students' academic accomplishments."

"Dr. Gusella and Dr. Kunkel, both working in molecular genetics, have made discoveries that have advanced research in that field and in the field of neurodegenerative diseases. In 1983, Dr. Gusella and other researchers found evidence that DNA in the chromosome 4 region was where the Huntington disease gene was hidden. Huntington's disease is an adult on-set mentally and physically deteriorating disease, caused by an inherited dominant gene mutation. Dr. Gusella's finding was a landmark because it said that scientists could find the approximate location of disease-associated (or other) genes, even if they didn't understand how the gene worked. It took Dr. Gusella and an international team another 10 years to find the gene. His discoveries, using a process called linkage analysis, provided impetus to the Human Genome project, and to research by other scientists that has currently mapped hundreds of genes. Dr. Gusella continues to work on a variety of genetic disorders." ...quotes from the Charles A. Dana Awards website http://www.dana.org/dana/pr_101598.html.

In 1997 Jim received the King Faisal International Prize in Medicine. Jim received his Searle Award in 1985. Since 1988 Jim has been Director of the Molecular Neurogenetics Unit of Massachusetts General Hospital, a unit that he basically founded and has developed.

October 23, 1998

Daphne K. Preuss to Receive Junior Award of the American Society for Cell Biology's Women in Cell Biology Committee

Daphne, 1997 Searle Scholar, is being recognized for her "promise to the field of cell biology, in particular for developing immunoelectron microsocopy of yeast cells and for defining the plant centromere". The award will be presented at the annual meeting of the ASCB in San Francisco in December, where Daphne will also present her recent work on pollination.

Other Searle Scholars giving major addresses at this year's ASCB meeting include Roger Y. Tsien, Linda A. Hicke, Timothy P. Stearns, Hermann Steller, Keith E. Mostov, Paul W. Sternberg, and David G. Drubin. Advisory Board member Rudolf Jaenisch and former Advisors Joan Brugge and Rick Klausner are also speaking.

August 24, 1998

Advisory Board Member Lee Limbird becomes Vice Chancellor of Vanderbilt

Jacobson unveils leadership changes for Medical Center

By Doug Campbell and Matt Scanlan

Photograph By Billy Kingsley

Lee E. Limbird, Ph.D., professor and chair of Pharmacology, has been named associate vice chancellor for research.

Limbird is an internationally-recognized scientist who has been a member of the VUMC faculty since 1979.

Under her guidance the Department of Pharmacology has grown in stature as a leader in research, consistently ranked at or near the top of nationally recognized pharmacology departments in NIH funding.

In her new position as vice chancellor for research, Limbird will work to promote VUMC's research mission, both internally and externally.

"Vanderbilt is home to a great deal of talent. There are a lot of creators here, both scientists and clinicians, with the capabilities to solve a lot of problems," Limbird said. "This new role will give me the chance to help create interdisciplinary opportunities and to develop the resources necessary to enhance discovery."

Over the course of her career, Limbird has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, and American Journal of Physiology and as an associate editor of Molecular Pharmacology.

In 1987 Limbird was selected to receive the John J. Abel Award in Pharmacology given by the American Society for Pharmacologists and Experimental Therapeutics in recognition of outstanding research in the area of pharmacology.

Limbird has also been honored with a NIH Young Investigator Award, an NIH Merit Award and an Established Investigator Award of the National Association for Research on Schizophrenia and Depression.

Copyright © 1998, Vanderbilt University Office of News & Public Affairs

August 24, 1998

Shawn R. Lockery, 1994 Scholar, in the News

Simple Nematode May Give Navy a New Way to Find Mines

EUGENE, Ore. -- At first glance, the worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans seems humble enough. Unlike its disease-causing and crop-killing cousins in the nematode family, C. elegans -- which reaches at most a millimeter in length -- is a peaceable resident of temperate soils. Its body is clear to the point of transparency. It rarely lives more than 18 days, and it mates with itself before it passes on.

But to researchers at the intersection of biology, chemistry, physics and engineering, C. elegans is invaluable. Scientists at the University of Oregon -- funded in part by the Navy -- are utilizing C. elegans's brain wiring to run an electronic robot that could one day be a model for a cheap, artificial eel that can locate explosive mines at sea.

Their eel would be built with a computerized brain that allows it to think, sniff and move as efficiently as C. elegans does. Much like the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, C. elegans became a scientific star because it is both physiologi cally simple and has a quick reproductive cycle.

Scientists were able to map C. elegans's synapses -- the message-bearing connections within its nervous system -- because it has a mere 302 neurons, or nerve cells. By comparison, humans have 1 trillion. Despite its tiny brain, C. elegans is pretty smart for its world. If one adjusts for the nematode's smaller size, C. elegans can actually handle about 1,000 times as much information per second as an Intel Pentium processor can.

That comparison, conceived and jotted down by University of Oregon neuroscientist Shawn R. Lockery a few years ago, "supported the idea that there are really important engineering secrets hidden in an animal system," Lockery said.

Thinking about artificial intelligence that way represents a sharp break from the past. Historically, scientists have tried to fashion electronic systems into approximations of animal behaviors. By contrast, Lockery and his team are trying to hard-wire the principles of animal brains into the instructions that run electronic robots.

"We don't call it artificial intelligence -- we call it biological intelligence," said Joel L. Davis, a program officer with the Office of Naval Research, which has funded Lockery's work. "Our goal is to look at the animal kingdom for behaviors or capabilities that we can reverse-engineer into devices that solve real-world Navy problems."

Several other federal agencies, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health, have followed the Navy's lead on biological intelligence, Davis said.

The Navy and DARPA have funded efforts by Joseph Ayres to pry into the minds of lobsters and lampreys. Lobsters are famed for their skill at moving through rocky, underwater surfaces buffeted by heavy water currents. Ayres, of Northeastern University's marine biology station in Nahant, Mass., has studied the simple "pattern generator" in the lobster's neural networks that governs how each leg moves.

The goal, Davis says, is to use a synthetic copy of the lobster's pattern generator to drive an artificial lobster that could one day be a prototype for an autonomous undersea vehicle. Early versions of the simulated lobster body and legs are complete and are scheduled for testing this summer, Davis says.

Similarly, the lamprey -- a relatively primitive sea creature -- might eventually provide scientists with clues about mimicking the movements of fish. Ayres is studying how the lamprey's brain controls its sine-wave-like movements, but the project is still in an early stage. "We'd like to create a device where the movement of the body mimics the flex of a fish," Davis said. The focus of

Lockery's lab is a process known as chemotaxis -- the method animals use to follow smells or tastes. A blindfolded man finding his way toward a just-baked apple pie uses chemotaxis to decide which direction to move. Similarly, nematodes use chemotaxis to find bacterial food sources by following the odors of their favorite bacteria's chemical byproducts. Chemotaxis, Lockery says, "is arguably the most widespread form of goal-directed behavior -- that is, intelligent behavior -- in the animal world."

To figure out how nematodes practiced chemotaxis, Lockery and lab mates Thomas Morse and Jonathan Pierce constructed chemical gradients for their worms to wander through. What they found is that nematodes forged ahead as long as they were finding equal- or higher-strength odors that they liked. As soon as the odor began to abate even slightly, the worms spun around. If their new direction offered stronger odors, they continued in that direction. But if the odors proved to be weaker still, the nematode kept spinning until it found a direction that offered more of what it wanted.

Once Lockery and his lab mates understood that process, they wrote computer instructions that mimicked the behavior and installed them in a $350 makeshift robot made of Lego tiles, model airplane parts, a light sensor and the plastic canister from a gumball-machine prize. The foot-long robot moves exactly as a nematode would under a microscope: It meanders haltingly, but within a minute or two, it always winds up at the brightest light source in the room.

Eventually, Lockery -- and the Navy -- would like to adapt that sensing system to track the minuscule plumes of waterborne chemicals that leach from underwater mines. To do that, they would embed a microchip containing the nematode's chemotaxis instructions into an eel-like robot fitted with a chemical sensor.

robot The little Lego robot -- though it's only "phase one, if not phase zero" of Lockery's project -- has already showcased how eons of evolution come up with ingenious solutions. For instance, Lockery unexpectedly discovered that C. elegans and its robot progeny use an elegant method to right themselves once they have hit an obstacle. When the robot hits a chair or a bookcase, it doesn't remain stuck for long, even though the light level at that spot, to the naked eye at least, seems constant. In reality, the light level is always fluctuating slightly, so before long it usually drops low enough for the brain to conclude that it's time to turn around.

Building a real-life mine detector from Lockery's research "is possible," said Anne Hart, a neuroscientist who studies C. elegans at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. "But either way, we're going to learn a lot. The fundamental mechanisms behind chemosensation in C. elegans seem to be the same as for humans. And it's a lot easier to learn those principles from a worm."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

May 13, 1998

Michael Levine and Roger Y. Tsien Elected to National Academy of Sciences

Michael, '85 Scholar, and Roger, '83 Scholar, are among 60 new members whose election was announced at the end of April. Past Advisory Board member Joan V. Ruderman was also elected. Our new Advisory Board Member Tony Hunter is among 15 newly elected foreign associates of the NAS.

April 24, 1998

Walter F. Boron Becomes President-Elect of the American Physiological Society

Walter, '81 Searle Scholar, is currently Chairman of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology at Yale University School of Medicine. For other Scholar News about Walter, see entries for 11/97 and 12/97, below.

March 1, 1998

Peter Mombaerts Receives Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers

The National Institutes of Health recently announced this year's NIH recipients of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. Ten NIH grantees and one intramural scientist were selected by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to be among this year's 60 researchers to receive the Presidential Award. Established in 1996, the Presidential Award is the most prestigious award the Federal government can make to outstanding researchers starting their careers. The Award recognizes the leadership qualities of young researchers and the promise of their research contributions. Those selected receive up to $500,000 over a five-year period to further their research.

Peter was cited "For innovative genetic approaches to the field of sensory neurobiology which have furthered our understanding of the development of sensory systems."

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