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09/03/2004 07:00:00

Caltech Professor Awarded Stein and Moore Award for Insights Into the Life Cycle of Cells

PASADENA, Calif.-- Ubiquitin is a small protein that has a very big job. Or jobs, to be more accurate. Indeed, the ubiquitin system is central to--literally--just about everything significant that goes on inside cells, and to a lot of intercellular business as well. Once unknown and, until the 1980s, unheralded, the ubiquitin system is now one of the major areas of study in cell biology, biochemistry, and genetics, and the point of convergence for many disparate disciplines.

For their cofounding of the ubiquitin field, Alexander Varshavsky of the California Institute of Technology and Avram Hershko of the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have been named corecipients of the Protein Society's 2005 Stein and Moore Award. Presented annually, the award was given to the pair in recognition of their "revolutionary work in discovering the ubiquitin system of protein degradation, its mechanisms, and its significance to living cells."

Varshavsky is the Smits Professor of Cell Biology at Caltech; Hershko is the distinguished professor of biochemistry at the Technion. The Stein and Moore Award is another in a long line of prestigious awards presented to the pair for their groundbreaking work.

"I am grateful to receive the Stein and Moore Award," says Varshavsky, "in part because the people who won it before us are such an illustrious company in our profession: Anfinsen, Neurath, Rossman, Fersht, Sigler, to cite just a few of them. The award is named after two great scientists, Stein and Moore, whose work in the 1950s and 1960s laid the foundations of modern protein chemistry."

The ubiquitin system is central to an incredible variety of biological processes: the cell cycle, cell growth and differentiation, embryogenesis and later development, programmed cell death, signal transmission, all kinds of DNA transactions (including DNA repair and replication), the immune response, the functions of the nervous system--the list goes on and on.

In addition, the ubiquitin system has become the cornerstone of cancer research. The relevance of the ubiquitin system to cancer cannot be overstated: a large number, if not a majority, of oncoproteins (proteins that, when mutated or overexpressed, can cause a normal cell to become cancerous) and tumor suppressors have been found to be either components or targets of the ubiquitin system. Studies by Varshavsky and coworkers in the 1980s, and particularly their discoveries of the first physiological functions of the ubiquitin system (in the cell cycle, DNA repair, transcriptional regulation, protein synthesis, and stress responses), eventually led, through the work by many laboratories, to the current preeminence of the ubiquitin system in cancer research.

By the late 1980s, the definitive and profoundly complementary advances by the laboratories of Hershko and Varshavsky transformed the realm of intracellular protein degradation from a relative backwater to a broad and dynamic subject of great importance.

Varshavsky is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and has received a number of scientific awards, including the Gairdner Award, the Lasker Award, the Sloan Prize, the Hoppe-Seyler Award, the Merck Award, the Wolf Prize, the Horwitz Prize, the Max Planck Research Award for Biosciences and Medicine, the Pasarow Award, the Massry Prize, and the Wilson Medal.

The Protein Society is the leading international society devoted to furthering research and development in protein science. Varshavsky and Hershko will be presented their award at the society's annual symposium, to be held in Boston in 2005.-