Procter Prize Winner Unlocked Viruses’ Secrets

August 21, 2018

Anna Marie Skalka Viruses are villains in the biology world, and a class called retroviruses is particularly sinister. Retroviruses use their RNA to create DNA and then uniquely integrate their DNA into the DNA of a host cell, infecting the cell for the rest of its life. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is a retrovirus, for example, and retroviruses can cause cancer.

A biologist who dedicated much of her career to studying retroviruses will receive Sigma Xi’s 2018 William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement. Anna Marie (Ann) Skalka is professor emerita at Fox Chase Cancer Center; she served as the senior vice president for basic science at the center from 1987 to 2008. She will accept her prize and share stories from her research October 27 at the Annual Meeting and Student Research Conference near San Francisco, California.

Skalka and her collaborators, first at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology and later at Fox Chase, provided a basic understanding of the structures and functions of retroviral proteins, revealing how they insert genetic material into the host genome and replicate. The proteins include reverse transcriptase, which makes DNA from RNA; integrase, which splices DNA into the host genome; and protease, a critical player in viral reproduction. Skalka’s team delineated the basic properties of protease and integrase, paving the way for pharmacologists to develop antiviral protein inhibitors.

Skalka is also a science communicator who served on advisory boards such as the U.S. Defense Science Board, and she is chair emerita of the New Jersey Commission on Cancer Research. She is one of the authors of the textbook Principles of Virology, and she wrote Discovering Retroviruses: Beacons in the Biosphere, which will be released to the public in September.


More About Sigma Xi: Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Honor Society is the world’s largest multidisciplinary honor society for scientists and engineers. Its mission is to enhance the health of the research enterprise, foster integrity in science and engineering, and promote the public understanding of science for the purpose of improving the human condition. Sigma Xi chapters can be found at colleges and universities, government laboratories, and industry research centers around the world. More than 200 Nobel Prize winners have been members. The Society is based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. On Twitter: @SigmaXiSociety