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May 9, 2006
Biologist Susan Lindquist to Speak at Annual Meeting in Detroit
RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC -- Molecular biologist Susan L. Lindquist is internationally renowned for groundbreaking research on protein folding that, among other things, has provided crucial insights into evolutionary processes and neurodegenerative diseases.
Colleagues say her rare mix of intelligence, vision and concern for others makes her a natural leader for charting new territories in biomedical research. She is also known as a gifted communicator of science, whose interests extend well beyond her own research areas.
Lindquist will receive Sigma Xi's highest honor, the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, and present a lecture on her research at the Society's 2006 Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference in Detroit, set for November 2-5.
Recent Procter Prize recipients have included computer scientist Bjarne Stroustrup, physicist Murray Gell-Mann and nuclear chemist Darleane Hoffman.
Lindquist is a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Her discoveries have led to a new paradigm in genetics based on the inheritance of proteins with new, self-perpetuating shapes rather than new DNA sequences.
By studying the complex origami-like shapes of proteins, she discovered how structural mistakes can lead to neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson's disease.
She and her colleagues have found that misfolding in just one part of a protein can transform it into an infectious material capable of replicating itself. Over time, these misshapen proteins, called prions, can have devastating effects on the brain or can serve as beneficial protein-based elements for perpetuating new biological traits.
Her group has developed yeast cells as "living test tubes" to study protein-folding transitions in normal biology and disease, to test therapeutic strategies and to investigate learning and memory.
Recently, her foray into organic fibers that can self-organize into structures smaller than manufactured materials promises to take the world of biomaterials and nanotechnology to new heights.
"I see biology becoming more and more an interdisciplinary science with physics, chemistry and evolutionary biology all coming together," Lindquist says. "When worlds collide, sparks fly--this is allowing us to take old problems and attack them in new ways."
Lindquist served as director of MIT's Whitehead Institute from 2001-2004. She came to MIT from the University of Chicago, where she was a professor of medical sciences, a professor in the department of molecular genetics and cell biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.
Among Lindquist's many honors are election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Sciences.
A Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, she has received the Novartis Drew Award in Biomedical Research, the Dickson Prize in Medicine, and is former secretary of the Genetics Society of America.
A native of Chicago, Lindquist received a B.A. from the University of Illinois and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1976.