Two Whitehead Faculty Elected to National Academy of Sciences

April 29, 1997

Tags: Awards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.  — The National Academy of Sciences today announced that two faculty of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Dr. Peter S. Kim and Dr. Eric S. Lander, have been elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

Dr. Kim, who is also Associate Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), recently discovered a structure on the surface of HIV that could lead to a new strategy for designing AIDS drugs. Dr. Lander, a pioneer in gene mapping and sequencing, is director of the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research. Both are also professors of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

"We are very pleased that NAS has chosen to recognize the exceptional scientific achievements and leadership of these two young scientists," says Dr. Gerald R. Fink, director of the Whitehead Institute. With today's announcement, five of the fourteen faculty at Whitehead are NAS members.

Membership in the Academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer. Drs. Lander and Kim were among 60 new members and 15 foreign associates elected today at the 134th annual meeting of the Academy.

Peter S. Kim, Ph.D.

Dr. Kim is a structural biologist whose primary research goals are to understand the structure of protein molecules, the building blocks of life, and to apply that knowledge to improved human health. He is particularly interested in proteins on the surface of viruses. Earlier this month, he and his collaborators produced the first high-resolution pictures of the protein fragment that enables HIV to invade human cells—work that has immediate implications for new drug design. This recent work also provides evidence that the HIV protein uses the same harpoonlike action that his lab proposed for flu viruses in 1993. Other virus studies in the Kim lab will help shape new strategies in vaccine development and gene therapy.

In addition to his work on viruses, Dr. Kim has made major contributions to research on protein folding and protein-protein recognition. His studies of a structural motif called the "leucine zipper"—found in some proteins involved in gene regulation—solved a 40-year-old puzzle first raised by Nobel Laureate Francis H.C. Crick in his doctoral thesis. The leucine zipper research also uncovered the mechanism of interaction between the products of two important cancer-causing genes (oncogenes), fos and jun.

Dr. Kim's work has earned him numerous awards, including the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology (1993), the DuPont Merck Young Investigator Award of the Protein Society, and the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (1994).

A graduate of Cornell University, Dr. Kim received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from Stanford University in 1985. He came to the Whitehead Institute as a participant in the Whitehead Fellows Program and was the first recipient of the Leonard T. Skeggs, Jr., Whitehead Institute Fellowship. In 1988 he became an Associate Member of the Institute and an Assistant Professor of Biology at MIT. He was named an Assistant Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1990, and became a Member of the Whitehead Institute in 1992. He was promoted to HHMI Associate Investigator in 1993, and to Professor of Biology at MIT in 1995.

Eric S. Lander, D.Phil.

Dr. Lander is a geneticist, molecular biologist, and mathematician with research interests in human genetics, mouse genetics, population genetics, and computational and mathematical methods in biology. His laboratory produced the first genetic and physical maps of the human and mouse genomes and has used these tools to map genes involved in susceptibility to cancer, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension in humans and animals. He has also pioneered methods for mapping genetic diseases using information from isolated human populations, and has developed mathematical methods and computer software for genetic analysis.

Under his leadership, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research has played a central role in building the infrastructure for both structural and functional genomics. Their achievements include construction of the crucial scaffold map of the human genome required to begin sequencing all human chromosomes (now with 23,000 DNA landmarks), completion of the first comprehensive genetic map of the mouse genome (with nearly 8,000 genetic markers); and the development of robotic systems for genome mapping and DNA sequencing (known as the Genomatron and the Sequatron).

Among Dr. Lander's many honors and awards are the Rhodes Scholarship (1978), the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship (1987), the Baker Memorial Award for Undergraduate Teaching at MIT (1992), the Rhoads Memorial Award from the American Association for Cancer Research (1995), and the Dickson Prize in Medicine (1997). He was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1990, in recognition of "research on the application of mathematical and statistical approaches to molecular genetics."

A graduate of Princeton University, Dr. Lander received his D.Phil. in Mathematics from Oxford University in 1981. He first came to the Whitehead Institute as a Whitehead Fellow in 1986, while still an Assistant Professor of Managerial Economics at the Harvard Business School (where he taught mathematics and economics). He was named a Member of the Whitehead Institute and an Associate Professor of Biology at MIT in 1989 and was promoted to Professor in 1993.

National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences is a private organization of scientists and engineers dedicated to the furtherance of science and its use for the general welfare. The Academy was established in 1863 by a congressional act of incorporation, signed by Abraham Lincoln, that calls on the Academy to act as an official adviser to the federal government, upon request, in any matter of science or technology.


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