05/31/1995 07:00:00

Biologist Ray Deshaies Named a 1995 Searle Scholar

PASADENA—Assistant Professor of Biology Ray Deshaies has been named a 1995 Searle Scholar in recognition of his outstanding research in the field of biochemistry and the genetics of cell division. He will use the three-year, $180,000 grant to further his investigations into the mechanisms of cell division in the microorganism Saccharomyces cerevisiae, otherwise known as baker's yeast.

Work in many laboratories over the past five years has shown that a remarkable similarity exists between the simplest eukaryotic organisms, such as baker's yeast, and much more complex eukaryotic organisms, such as people. Yeast and humans use similar proteins to implement and control the processes of cell growth and division known as the cell cycle.

One critical regulator of the cell cycle is an assembly of two different proteins called cyclin and cyclin-dependent kinase (Cdk). Cyclin binds to Cdk and activates it, and Cdk then switches on other proteins in the cell cycle process. When Cdk has completed its task, it is deactivated by the destruction of its partner protein, cyclin. Deshaies's lab hopes to exploit the powerful genetic technologies available for working with yeast to identify proteins that help control Cdk activity. He and his colleagues want to understand how cyclin, Cdk, and other proteins work in the cell cycle to ensure that chromosomes are duplicated and segregated accurately when cells divide.

The activity of cyclin, Cdk, and other proteins is crucial to human health, and mutations in proteins that control Cdk actvity may help trigger certain types of cancer. Because of the similarities in the cell cycles of yeast and humans, discoveries made by Deshaies's group will likely be applicable to people as well. Basic research such as this on the cell cycle may eventually assist in the development of novel chemotherapeutic treatments for cancer.

Deshaies graduated in 1983 from Cornell University with honors and distinction in biochemistry, and earned his PhD, also in biochemistry, in 1988 at UC Berkeley. He held postdoctoral appointments at UC Berkeley and at UC San Francisco, and joined the Caltech faculty in January 1994. In addition to being a Searle Scholar, Deshaies is a Lucille P. Markey Charitable Trust Scholar.

The Searle Scholars Program was established at the Chicago Community Trust in 1980, and is funded by the estates of Mr. and Mrs. John G. Searle. John Searle was the grandson of the founder of the worldwide pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle & Company. It was the Searles's wish that certain funds be used to support "research in medicine, chemistry, and biological science." To achieve this goal, grants are made to support the independent research of outstanding individuals who are in the first or second year of their first appointment at the assistant professor level.

Written by John Avery