Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist honored with Mendel Medal

November 12, 2010

Tags: Lindquist LabAwards + Announcements

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Whitehead Member Susan Lindquist has been awarded the Mendel Medal by the Genetics Society in the U.K.

“Susan Lindquist has produced groundbreaking work on how genes and their protein products interact with environmental changes,” says Veronica van Heyningen, the current President of the Genetics Society and a primary investigator at the Medical Research Council's Human Genetics Unit in Edinburgh, Scotland. “This is a most important area for many different types of disease from cancer to neurodegeneration. This interface may be one of the most likely to respond to novel drug development. Dr. Lindquist is the major pioneer in exploring this area.”

The Genetics Society recognizes distinguished geneticists for their lifetime achievements in genetics with the Mendel Lecture, which is normally held every year at the organization’s November scientific meeting. The Mendel Medal is awarded to commemorate the lecture. Founded by William Bateson in 1919, the Genetics Society is one of the oldest "learned societies" devoted to Genetics in the world. Its membership of over 1700 consists of most of the UK's active geneticists, including academics, researchers and students.

Lindquist is world-renown for her investigation of protein folding. Proteins are vital to almost every cellular function, from signaling between cells to transcribing DNA. These molecules start as long strings of amino acids, which are useless until they fold into a conformation largely dictated by their chemistry. When that folding process goes wrong, proteins can no longer perform their function and may accumulate in clumps or form prions. These states give rise to diseases, such as Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, bovine spongiform encephalopathy (also known as “mad cow disease”), and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

Using yeast models, Lindquist studies these diseases’ progression at the cellular level and screens for potential therapeutic compounds. She also works with heat shock proteins (HSPs) that can brace misfolded proteins into the correct conformation when a cell is under environmental stress, such as heat, acidity, and toxicity.

Lindquist, who is also a professor of biology at MIT and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator, is the first Whitehead Member to receive the Mendel Medal.

This is the third major award Lindquist has received in the past few weeks. On October 15, President Obama named her a recipient of the National Medal of Science, and on November 4, she received the Max Delbrück Medal in Berlin, Germany.

“I think we have to acknowledge what a spectacular month Susan is having,” says Whitehead Institute Director David Page. “I couldn’t be more excited for her or more proud of her incredible scientific accomplishments. It’s most unusual for a scientist to be recognized in both the world of biochemistry and the world of genetics, and yet Susan has been honored repeatedly for her contributions to both fields. To my mind, that is unprecedented.”

Written by Nicole Giese Rura

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Susan Lindquist’s primary affiliation is with Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, where her laboratory is located and all her research is conducted. She is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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