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04/02/2012 07:00:00

Alexander Varshavsky Awarded Otto Warburg Medal

Alexander Varshavsky, Caltech's Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell Biology, has been awarded the Otto Warburg Medal of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM). The medal is considered to be the highest German award for biochemists and molecular biologists.

Varshavsky's main recognized contribution was the fundamental discovery, in the 1980s, of biological regulation by intracellular protein degradation and its central importance in cellular physiology. This discovery by the Varshavsky laboratory involved the understanding, through genetic and biochemical insights, of the biological functions of the ubiquitin system, a major proteolytic circuit in living cells. Ubiquitin is a small protein that is present in cells either as a free protein or as a part of complexes with many other proteins. The association of ubiquitin with cellular proteins marks them for degradation or other metabolic fates. Through its ability to destroy specific proteins, the ubiquitin system plays a major role in cell growth and differentiation, DNA repair, regulation of gene expression, and many other biological processes.

"Alexander Varshavsky's research on ubiquitin-dependent intracellular protein degradation has revolutionised that area of research," Professor Irmgard Sinning, president of GBM, said in the citation. "We owe to him a series of discoveries with a tremendous impact on cell biology and helping us to better understand and study numerous diseases."

The recipient of numerous awards, including most recently the 2012 King Faisal International Prize for Science, Varshavsky earned his BS from Moscow State University in 1970 and his PhD from the Institute of Molecular Biology in 1973. He has been Smits Professor at Caltech since 1992.

Written by Allison Benter