Stem cell research, discovering human genome sequences, molecular research/medicine, genetic and cancer research, ecological revelations, agricultural protection — what do these have in common? Amazing biological research. Discover these ten outstanding biologists making strides in medicine, agriculture, evolution, and ecology. Their work is fundamental to understanding our world a bit better through each discovery!
Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D. — Stem Cell Research
Through his research on stem cells, Shinya Yamanaka made his mark on the world of biology. He won the 2012 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the ability of mature cells to be reprogrammed into pluripotent cells. This finding is an important advancement of medicine as it provides a new basis for various treatments for a variety of illnesses. Additionally, it contradicted a commonly held belief that adult cells remain in that state forever. Rather, those cells are capable of becoming a variety of different cells.
Ultimately, his work seeks to understand, one, what types of somatic cells are ideal to use for iPS cell induction and, two, what molecular mechanisms are responsible for reprogramming cells. Moreover, Yamanaka aims to answer two questions. First, can the use of retrovirus be replaced by other safer methods of treatment? Second, can small molecules induce pluripotency in somatic cells instead of genes?
Of note, Yamanaka received his M.D. from Kobe University and his Ph.D. from Osaka City Graduate School University. He holds a current tenure with the University of California, San Francisco, as a professor of anatomy. Furthermore, he is an investigator at the Gladstone Institute for Cardiovascular Disease. He also works with Kyoto University as the Director of the Center for iPS Cell Research and Application (CiRA) and Principal Investigator for the Institute for Integrated Cell-Material Sciences.
In addition to his Nobel Prize, Yamanaka has earned a variety of other awards. His collection includes the “Person Who Mattered” recognition in the 2007 Person of the Year edition of Time, the 2007 Meyenburg Cancer Research Award, and the 2011 Wolf Prize in Medicine.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Shinya Yamanaka.
J. Craig Venter, Ph.D. — Human Genome Sequencing
J. Craig Venter's most notable contribution to biology is being one of the first to sequence the human genome. His research emerged around the same time the National Institute of Health presented findings on the topic. He was passionate about sequencing the human genome because he believes it is the key to radically changing and improving healthcare.
In brief, he is a biochemist, geneticist, biotechnologist, and businessman. Venter founded Celera Genomics, which is where his biggest finding occurred. After Celera, he co-founded Synthetic Genomics and focused on utilizing microorganisms to produce clean fuels and biochemicals. This shift in research not only benefits human health but environmental health.
He also founded the J. Craig Venter Institute, a non-profit dedicated to research that advances human health and the environment. The primary focus of this research is in the field of synthetic biology. The team, including Venter, is working to create synthetic life. This research is set to be the foundation for many years of research to come and, hopefully, improve medical advances for the future.
Of note, he earned a B.S. in Biochemisty and a Ph.D. in Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of California, San Diego. Venter is the recipient of the Dickson Prize, the National Medal of Science, and the Double Helix Medal, among many others.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about J. Craig Venter.
Andrew Z. Fire, Ph.D. and Craig C. Mello, Ph.D. — RNA Research
This unique duo, while contributing to biology separately, made astounding strides together in understanding RNA interference. Their efforts earned them a joint 2006 Nobel Prize in Pathology and Medicine. In short, they discovered RNA interference (RNAi). This highlighted how RNA can destroy mRNA, silencing specific genes in double-stranded RNA.
Their work in RNAi revolutionized the industry's understanding of biological regulation. It has also been a fundamental discovery in grasping how genetic information flows. Their continued efforts in molecular medicine, though now in separate labs, looks to understand the role of RNAi machinery and other methods cells use to detect chemical signals coming from outside the cell
Andrew Z. Fire, Ph.D.
Andrew Fire received his B.S. from UC Berkeley and his Ph.D. from MIT. Currently, he is a professor at Stanford Medical School in the Pathology and Genetics Department.
Ultimately, his research aims to understand how cells and organisms respond to genetic change. Also, it looks at how a cell differentiates between various gene expressions. This is key in understanding how humans evolve and may answer where we came from as well as where we are going as a species.
In addition to his co-awarded Nobel Prize, he is the recipient of the Meyenburg Prize, the Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize, the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, and the Massry Prize, to name a few.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Andrew Z. Fire.
Craig C. Mello, Ph.D.
Craig Mello received his B.S. from Brown University in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He then completed his Ph.D. at Harvard University. Currently, he is Co-Director of the RNA Theraputics Institute and a professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Ultimately, his work is significant because it determines the role RNA plays in regulating a genome. Additionally, Mello’s research is the basis of the first commercial RNAi drug that is expected to receive regulatory approval in 2018.
In addition to his academic and research commitments, Mello serves on the Technology Advisory Board of Monsanto. He was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences and won a plethora of awards in addition to his joint Nobel Prize. His collection includes the National Academy of Sciences Award and the Hope Funds Award of Excellence.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Craig C. Mello.
Jack W. Szostak, Ph.D. — Biology of Cancer Cells
Jack Szostak is a well-known biologist who won the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his work with telomerase. Telomerase, or terminal transferase, is a key enzyme in cancer cells. His research set the groundwork for understanding normal cell function and aging in addition to the understanding of cell function of cancerous cells. It has been vital to the field of genetics. Additionally, his research was key in the Human Genome Project.
He currently works as a Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School along with continuing his research. Additionally, he runs his own lab. The Szostak Lab aims to find the universal properties of modern cells as well as build an understanding of the ancestry behind modern cells. It focuses on both the origin of life along with the construction of artificial life.
For his work, Szostak was awarded the Genetics Society of America Medal, the Oparin Medal, and the Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, among many others. He also belongs to National Academy of Sciences, the New York Academy of Sciences, and the Kosciuszko Foundation, to name a few.
Of note, Szostak earned his bachelor’s degree from McGill University and his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Moreover, his research laid a foundation for research on cellular development and reaction, aging, and genetics for many years to come.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Jack W. Szostak.
Ronald Evans, Ph.D. — Molecular Biology
As a result of Ronald Evans research in gene expression to devise small-molecule therapy , there is now a new class of drugs that benefit the body as if exercised without the actual act. This development was a breakthrough for those who suffer from a variety of ailments like muscular dystrophy, paralysis, and diabetes.
In his research, Evans studies the origins of physiology. He believes that understanding the normal and pathological activities of hormones will lead to more effective treatments of disease. Furthermore, he hopes to use his research to combat the obesity epidemic through drugs that specifically target the problem.
His awards include the Wolf Prize in Medicine, the Dickson Prize, the Harvey Prize, the Albany Medical Center Prize, and the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize. Also, he was named one of the top ten living biologists.
Of note, Evans received both his bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. from UCLA. Moreover, he completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Rockefeller University. He is also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Ronald Evans.
Paul Thompson, Ph.D. — Neuroscience Research
As a neuroscientist and professor at the USC Keck School of Medicine, Paul Thompson is well-regarded in his field. Additionally, he is the director of the ENIGMA Consortium, a group of over 300 scientists from around the world. The group's members jointly conduct research on ten major brain diseases, including depression, ADHD, addiction, and schizophrenia. Thompson specifically researches human brain imaging.
Interestingly, he developed his own utilities research methods. Through these, he and his team study how treatments restore brain growth in HIV+ kids. His most recent work has discovered structural and functional brain changes that occur in a variety of brain diseases.
Ultimately, Thompson’s discoveries about brain changes, particularly those involved in less-understood diseases, gives hope for a cure in the future. As such, his research has set the fundamental groundwork needed to continue research on the world’s most common brain diseases.
Based on his work, he has published over 1,000 articles on a variety of computational strategies for analyzing brain images in databases. Additionally, he is the recipient of the Kent Innovation in Academia Award, the Di Chiro Outstanding Scientific Paper Award, and many others. He was also named “one of the world’s most scientific minds”.
Of note, Thompson completed his initial bacclaureate and graduate work at Oxford University. He then went on to complete his Ph.D. at UCLA.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Paul Thompson.
Corrie Moreau, Ph.D. — Biology, Ecology and Evolution
A leader in myrmecology, the study of ants, Corrie Moreau's research focuses on understanding the evolution, ecology, and biodiversification of insects and their microbial gut-symbionts. In brief, her research is key to continued understanding of the evolution of ants and how gut-associated bacteria help mold the evolutionary process.
Moreau uses a variety of tools to address evolutionary questions. As such, her most current research focuses on understanding the biogeographic patterns that have shaped distributions of ants in the tropical rainforests of Australia. Moreover, she hopes to understand how climate change impacts current species and, thus, how climate change will affect humans.
Furthermore, Moreau is a strong advocate for women in science. In addition to her research work, she is the Founder of the Field Museum Women in Science Group. The group offers paid internship opportunities specifically for females in the field. Additionally, she was featured in National Geographic as a Woman of Impact and named a National Geographic Explorer.
Of note, Moreau received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from San Francisco State University. She then went on to receive her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Also, she was a Kavli Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences. Currently, Moreau holds tenures with Cornell University in the Department of Entomology and the Department of Ecology and Evolution.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Corrie Moreau.
Thomas Sudhof, M.D., Ph.D. — Neurological Disease Research
The research Thomas Sudhof conducted in synaptic transmission and synaptic formation set the groundwork for neurological disease research. Diseases included in this research are Schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, and Autism. In short, work aims to better understand the properties of synaptic transmissions. His research is so significant that he received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Currently, he is an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and a professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. His current research focuses on synaptic formation, maintenance, and release. This research is vital to a better understanding of brain diseases.
Additionally, Sudhof serves on the Research Consortium of the Cure Alzheimer’s Fund. He was also elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society and the Institute of Medicine. Moreover, he received many awards beyond the Nobel Prize, including the Kavil Prize.
Of note, Sudhof received both his M.D. and Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen. Interestingly, his early research focused on the presynaptic nerve terminal. This was cutting edge at the time since a majority of his peers invested their efforts in the postsynaptic nerve terminal. Ultimately, his research laid the foundation of years of life-changing research to come.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Thomas Sudhof.
Laura Boykin, Ph.D. — Genomics and Molecular Evolution
As a computational biologist and social entrepreneur, Laura Boykin's research interests in genomics, phylogenetics, and molecular evolution have led to humanitarian efforts. For example, her work on the cassava plant may eventually render a specimen that is resistant to viruses and whitefly, which would be a monumental development for the sub-Saharan Africa population.
Currently, she is a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, where she is also a lecturer. Moreover, she is an activist, as well, and is funded by the African Cassava Whitefly Project and the Crawford Fund. Boykin ultimately uses her research to help small farm owners protect their crops from devastation in sub-Saharan Africa.
Additionally, she was featured on TED Talks as one of “11 Up and Coming Scientist You Need to Know.” Her work as a social entrepreneur also earned her the Gifted Citizen Prize. This prize is only awarded to the best social entrepreneurship project with the ability to benefit 10 million people over the next six years.
Of note, Boykin earned three academic degrees. She obtained her bachelor's degree from Occidental College, her master’s degree from San Francisco State University, and her Ph.D. from the University of New Mexico.
Outstanding Biologist: Read about Laura Boykin.