New research shows that the ears can sometimes trick the eyes

Though it seems to follow common sense that vision is the most dominant of the human senses, a new study by California Institute of Technology researchers shows that auditory signals can sometimes trick test subjects into misinterpreting what they have seen.

In a new study appearing in the Dec. 14 issue of the journal Nature, Caltech psychophysicists Ladan Shams, Yukiyasu Kamitani, and Shinsuke Shimojo report that auditory information can alter the perception of accompanying visual information, even when the visual input is otherwise unambiguous.

"We have discovered a visual illusion that is induced by sound," the authors write in the paper. Using a computer program that runs very short blips of light accompanied by beeps, the researchers asked test subjects to determine whether there was one or two flashes.

However, unknown to the subjects, the number of flashes mismatch that of beeps in some trials. When the subjects were shown the flash accompanied by one beep, everyone correctly stated that they had seen one flash. But when they were shown the flash with two very quick beeps spaced about 50 milliseconds apart, the subjects all erroneously reported that they had seen two flashes.

What's more, test subjects who were told that there was actually only one flash still continued to perceive two flashes when they heard two beeps.

According to Shimojo, a professor of biology at Caltech, the effect works only if the beeps are very rapid. When they are, "there's no way within the time window for vision to tell whether there's a single or double flash," he says.

According to Shams, a postdoctoral scholar working in Shimojo's lab and lead author of the paper, the results contribute to a shift in our view of visual processing from one "that is independent of other modalities, toward one that is more intertwined with other modalities, and can get as profoundly influenced by signals of other modalities as it influences them."

Contact: Robert Tindol (626) 395-3631

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Sequencing of Arabidopsis genome will havehuge payoffs, Caltech plant geneticist says

Whether or not the man was right when he said a mustard seed can move mountains, a poorer cousin of mustard named Arabidopsis has just been certified one of the heavy lifters of 21st-century biology.

With today's announcement that the international effort to sequence the Arabidopsis genome has been completed, plant biologists now have a powerful tool that is a triumph for biology as well as world agriculture, says Caltech plant geneticist Elliot Meyerowitz.

"Anything you learn in Arabidopsis is easily applied to crop plants," says Meyerowitz, in whose Caltech lab the first cloning and sequencing of an Arabidopsis gene took place.

"With knowledge from the genome sequencing, you might be able to make crops more resistant to disease and other plant problems," he said. "Fifty percent of all pre- and postharvest losses are due to pests, so if you could solve these problems, you could double the efficiency of world agriculture."

Arabidopsis is a nondescript weed of the mustard family that has a thin 6-inch-long stem, small green leaves, and tiny white blooms when it flowers. With no commercial, medicinal, decorative, or other practical uses, the plant is hardly even worth grubbing out of the flower bed when it springs up in its various habitats around the world.

But for geneticists, Arabidopsis is the powerhouse of the plant world. It is easy to plant and grow, maturing in a couple of weeks; it is small and thus requires little precious lab space; it is easy to clone and sequence its genes; and it produces plenty of seeds very quickly so that future generations—mutants and otherwise—can be studied. And now, Arabidopsis is the only plant species whose genome has been totally sequenced.

"Arabidopsis took off in the 1980s after it was demonstrated it has a very small genome, which makes it easier to clone genes," said Meyerowitz, a longtime supporter of and adviser to the international Arabidopsis genome project.

"One reason the plant was chosen was because it doesn't have that much DNA," he said. "Arabidopsis has about 125 million base pairs in the entire genome—and that's 20 times smaller than the human genome, and thus about 20 times less expensive to sequence. It's been a bargain."

The sequencing of the plant genome was originally proposed in 1994 for a 2004 completion, but experts later realized the project could be completed four years early—and under budget.

"Everybody shared the cost, and everybody will share the benefits—all the information is in the public domain," Meyerowitz says. "Taxpayers got a big bargain."

Sequencing Arabidopsis has benefits for the understanding of basic biological mechanisms, in much the same way that sequencing the roundworm or fruit fly has benefits. As a consequence of evolution, all organisms on Earth share a huge number of genes.

Thus, the information obtained from sequencing Arabidopsis as well as fruit flies and roundworms will contribute to advances in understanding how the genes of all living organisms are related. These underlying genetic interactions, in turn, will eventually lead to new treatments of human disease as well as the genetic engineering of agricultural products.

In addition to making crops more disease- and pest-resistant, genetic engineering could also change the time of flowering so that crops could be fitted to new environments; make plants more resistant to temperature changes; and possibly lengthen the roots so that plants could make more efficient use of nutrients.

Also, approximately one-fourth of all medicines were originally derived from plants, Meyerowitz says. So better understanding of the enzymes that create these pharmaceutical products could be used for creating new drugs as well as making existing drugs better and more efficient.

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Human brain employs the same neurons in seeing an objectand later imagining it

In a study of nine epilepsy patients awaiting brain surgery, researchers have discovered that humans use the same neurons to conjure up mental images that they use when they see the real object with their eyes.

In the November 16 issue of the journal Nature, UCLA neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Itzhak Fried and Caltech neuroscientists Christof Koch and Gabriel Kreiman report on results obtained by questioning nine patients who had been fitted with brain sensors. The patients, all suffering from severe epilepsy uncontrolled with drugs, were being observed for a period of 1-2 weeks so that the regions of their brains responsible for their seizures could be identified and later surgically removed.

During their extended hospital stay, the patients were asked to look at photos of famous people such as President Clinton, pictures of animals, abstract drawings, and other images. While they were looking at the images, the researchers noted the precise neurons that were active.

Then, the subjects were instructed to close their eyes and vividly imagine the images. Again, the researchers took note of the neurons active at the time of visual imagery.

Analysis of the data showed that a subset of neurons in the hippocampus, amygdala, entorhinal cortex, and parahippocampal gyrus would fire both when the patient looked at the image, as well as when he or she imagined the image.

The results build upon previous work by Fried's group showing that single neurons in the human brain are involved in memory and can respond selectively to a wide variety of visual stimuli and stimulus features such as facial expression and gender.

According to Koch, a professor of computation and neural systems at Caltech, the study helps settle long-standing questions about the nature of human imagery. Particularly, the research sheds light on the process at work when humans see things with the "mind's eye."

"If you try to recall how many sunflowers there are in the Van Gogh painting, there is something that goes on in your head that gives rise to this visual image," Koch says. "There has been an ongoing debate about whether the brain areas involved in perception during 'vision with your eyes' are the same ones used during visual imagery."

The problem has been difficult to address because the techniques that yield very precise results in animals are generally not suitable for humans, and because the brain imaging techniques suitable for humans are not very precise, Koch says. Such techniques can image only large portions of the brain, each containing on the order of one million very diverse nerve cells.

"Recording the activity of single cells allows us to investigate the neuronal correlates of visual awareness at a detailed level of temporal and spatial resolution," says Kreiman.

The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Caltech researcher wins Lasker Award

Alexander Varshavsky, who is Smits Professor of Cell Biology at the California Institute of Technology, has been named a recipient of the 2000 Albert Lasker Award in Basic Medical Research for his groundbreaking work on the ubiquitin system that targets proteins for destruction.

The Lasker Awards are given each year by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation for basic and clinical medical research. This year's award winners were announced Sunday, September 17, in New York City. He shares the Lasker Award with Avram Hershko and Aaron Ciechanover of the Technion (Israel) Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel.

Varshavsky was cited by the foundation "for the discovery and the recognition of the broad significance of the ubiquitin system of regulated protein degradation, a fundamental process that influences vital cellular events, including the cell cycle, malignant transformation, and responses to inflammation and immunity."

"Alex's record of scientific originality is extraordinary," wrote Caltech Biology Division Chair Elliot Meyerowitz earlier this year.

"His earlier work included the invention and first use of several of the most important and most widely used methods of modern molecular genetics. His work from the late 1970s to the present has centered on understanding the cellular regulation of protein stability: in this crucial area he and his laboratory are the world leaders.

"As Alex's work has progressed, it has become evident that control of protein stability is one of the fundamental properties of living cells, and that it plays a role in many cellular processes, and in health and disease," Meyerowitz said.

Varshavsky, a native of Moscow, has been a member of the Caltech biology faculty since 1992. After finishing his doctorate in biochemistry at the Institute of Molecular Biology in the former Soviet Union in 1973, he headed the institute's research group for four years before joining the biology faculty at MIT, where he worked from 1977 to 1992.

Varshavsky is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. His other honors include the 1998 Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health, the 1998 Novartis-Drew Award, the 1999 Gairdner International Award from the Gairdner Foundation of Canada, the 2000 Shubitz Prize in Cancer Research from the University of Chicago, the 2000 Sloan Prize from the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation, and the 2000 Hoppe-Seyler Award from the German Biochemical Society.

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New visual test devised by Caltech, USC researchers

A new five-minute vision test using a desktop computer and touch-sensitive screen is showing promise as a diagnostic tool for a variety of eye diseases and even certain brain tumors.

Invented by California Institute of Technology physicist Wolfgang Fink and University of Southern California professor of ophthalmology and neurosurgery Alfredo A. Sadun, the 3-D Computer-Based Threshold Amsler Grid Test offers a novel method for medical personnel to evaluate the central visual field. The test is sensitive and specific enough to allow an ophthalmologist to diagnose visual disorders such as macular degeneration, and to discriminate between visual disorders with subtly different symptoms, such as macular edema and optic neuritis.

In order to take the test, the patient sits in front of a touch-sensitive computer screen displaying a grid pattern and a central bright spot. Staring at the central spot with one eye closed, the patient traces a finger around the portions of the grid he or she can see, and the computer records the information.

After the computer records the patient's tracings, the operator changes the contrast of the grid slightly and the patient again traces the visible portions of the grid. This process is repeated and information is gathered for the computer to process a three-dimensional profile of the patient's visual field for that eye. Then, the process is repeated for the other eye.

Patients suffering from macular degeneration, for example, experience a loss of vision at the central focus and thus will have trouble seeing the grid pattern near the center. Since macular degeneration sufferers have peripheral vision, they would likely trace a central hole on the screen, and if they also had a relative field defect, they might trace an ever-smaller circle as the brightness of the grid pattern intensified. Once the information was processed, the 3-D graph would provide doctors with a complete description of what the patient sees under various conditions.

The test will also be useful for diseases and conditions such as optic neuritis, detached retina, glaucoma, anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (AION), macular edema, central or branch retinal artery occlusions, and several genetic impairments. Also, the test can be used to detect, characterize, and even locate several types of brain tumors.

Thus, the new test is not only more revealing than standard visual field tests, but it is also much quicker and simpler than existing methods of characterizing the visual field, says Sadun. Likening the test to a recreational video game, Sadun says the new technology will be cheap and easily marketable, and also will be a powerful means of processing patient data.

"The patient is playing the game while the machine is digesting the information," Sadun says.

Fink created a program that permits the computer acquisition and analysis of the psychophysical techniques developed by Sadun. The computer processes patient responses into a computer profile.

Fink says the test is "a completely noninvasive way to understand and diagnose certain eye diseases."

"We can gain more information from this test than any other visual field test," Sadun says. "The test creates a greater sensitivity for detecting problems, it provides quantitative measures for monitoring, and it characterizes the 3-D visual field, which makes a big contribution to diagnosis."

The test has already been used since April on about 40 patients suffering from macular degeneration, AION, and optic neuritis. In the coming months, the researchers will begin testing the program on patients with glaucoma.

The 3-D Computer-Based Threshold Amsler Grid Test has been approved by USC's institutional review board. Fink and Sadun have applied for a U.S. patent.

Fink was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation during the course of his work.

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Caltech Breaks Ground for Broad Center for Biological Sciences

PASADENA—The California Institute of Technology broke ground for the Broad Center for Biological Sciences at noon, September 12, at the site of the future building, at the southeast corner of Wilson Avenue and Lura Street in Pasadena.

Expected to be completed in the year 2002, the Broad Center will be the site of up to a dozen key research groups that will expand Caltech's existing strengths and position the Institute for leadership in a number of critical areas of investigation. Principal funding for the building was provided by a gift of more than $20 million from Edythe and Eli Broad. Eli Broad is chairman and CEO of SunAmerica Inc. and has been a Caltech trustee since 1993.

The Broads' gift is part of a $100 million fund-raising effort for the biological sciences at Caltech.

Speakers at the groundbreaking included David Baltimore, president of Caltech; Broad; Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan; Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard; Gordon Moore, chair of the Caltech Board of Trustees; James Freed, senior partner with Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects; John Rudolph, principal with Rudolph and Sletten, the construction company; and Mel Simon and John Abelson, biology faculty.

Pei Cobb Freed & Partners is known for its work on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art in Athens; the Miho Museum of Shiga, Japan; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland; the Grand Louvre in Paris; and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Caltech's Broad Center will be located on the northwest corner of campus, near the Beckman Institute. Measuring 120,000 square feet, with three floors above ground and two below, the building will include laboratories and offices for 10 to 12 research teams, as well as conference rooms, compact libraries, a lecture hall, and a seminar room. The latest modular design elements will be used to allow the greatest flexibility for rearranging labs and offices to accommodate future needs at minimum cost. The square modern design is intended to maximize scientific interaction within.

The building will contain several major research facilities including an imaging center and a biomolecular structures laboratory.

A mall covered by red Chinese pistache trees will line one side of the building. The exterior walls of the building will be travertine on the south-facing wall adjacent to the Beckman Institute, and etched stainless steel on the other walls.

Founded in 1891, Caltech has an enrollment of some 2,000 students, and a faculty of about 275 professorial members and 130 research members. The Institute has more than 19,000 alumni. Caltech employs a staff of more than 2,100 on campus and 4,800 at JPL.

Over the years, 28 Nobel Prizes and four Crafoord Prizes have been awarded to faculty members and alumni. Forty-five Caltech faculty members and alumni have received the National Medal of Science; and eight alumni (two of whom are also trustees), two additional trustees, and one faculty member have won the National Medal of Technology. Since 1958, 13 faculty members have received the annual California Scientist of the Year award. On the Caltech faculty there are 77 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and on the faculty and Board of Trustees, 70 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 48 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

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Caltech Faculty Member Receives McKnight Award

Pasadena, Calif.--Gilles Laurent, associate professor of biology and computational and neural systems at the California Institute of Technology, has received the McKnight Investigator Award for his work in "Memory in Olfactory Network Dynamics." This award, granted by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, is given to stimulate research in neuroscience as it pertains to memory and, ultimately, to a clearer understanding of diseases affecting memory. Laurent is one of five scientists to have received the award nationally. Each McKnight recipient will receive a grant of $150,000 over the next three years to further his or her work in neuroscience.

Laurent is renowned for his work on the "sense of smell," or olfactory processing in the brain. This work may have extensive medical and commercial applications. Laurent earned a PhD from the University of Toulouse (France), and a DVM from the National School of Veterinary Medicine of Toulouse. He has been a member of the faculty at Caltech since 1990.

The McKnight Foundation was established in 1953 by William L. and Maude L. McKnight. Supported through the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, the McKnight Awards programs in neuroscience were established in 1976 to stimulate research in neuroscience, especially as it pertains to memory. The specific purpose of the McKnight Awards program is to identify investigative programs of outstanding quality involving established neuroscientists and to encourage these seasoned investigators to develop new approaches to an understanding of the basic mechanisms of memory and diseases affecting it.

Founded in 1891, Caltech is now ranked as one of the top universities in the country. Over the years, 28 Nobel Prizes and four Crafoord Prizes have been awarded to faculty members and alumni. Forty-five Caltech faculty members and alumni have received the National Medal of Science; and eight alumni (two of whom are also trustees), two additional trustees, and one faculty member have won the National Medal of Technology. Since 1958, 13 faculty members have received the annual California Scientist of the Year award. On the Caltech faculty there are 77 fellows of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and on the faculty and Board of Trustees, 70 members of the National Academy of Sciences and 48 members of the National Academy of Engineering.

Contact: Deborah Williams-Hedges (626) 395-3227 debwms@caltech.edu

Visit the Caltech Media Relations Web site at: http://www.caltech.edu/~media

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Caltech receives $1 million grant for Worm Genome Database

PASADENA—In a major follow-up to the sequencing of the human genome, the National Institutes of Health has awarded $1 million to the California Institute of Technology for a genome database to aid in biomedical research as well as basic biology.

Known as the Worm Genome Database, or simply "WormBase," the project will link the already-completed genome sequence of the experimental organism C. elegans to the functions that the genes perform, says Caltech biology professor Paul Sternberg, leader of the project. Also, the information in WormBase will contribute to advances in understanding how genes of all animals are related so that underlying genetic interactions can perhaps be exploited for future treatments of human disease.

More commonly known as a roundworm or nematode, C. elegans has a genome that comprises about 19,000 genes. As a consequence of evolution, the roundworm shares a huge number of genes with human beings—as do all other organisms on Earth, including plants.

The reason this fundamental relationship will be important to 21st-century medicine is that these commonly shared genes, or homologs, often have the same functions in their respective organisms. In Sternberg's own lab, for example, researchers found that several genes that control what cells do during the development of the worm are worm versions of human genes that mutate to cause cancer.

This finding had two implications, Sternberg says. Genes that work together in the worm are likely to work together in the human, and the normal function of "oncogenes" is to control normal cell behavior, not to cause disease.

Thus, improved knowledge of the roundworm at the molecular level could lead to new and improved approaches for dealing with human disease, or even result in a cure.

And as a side benefit, Sternberg says, knowing the differences between ourselves and a roundworm could lead to new approaches to eradicate the creature, which is an agricultural nuisance.

"I think one of the important things about WormBase is that it will lead to new ways to study basic mechanisms," says Sternberg, adding that the sequencing of several other experimental organisms will be important for the same reason. Among the other organisms are the laboratory mouse, the mustardlike flowering plant Arabidopsis, the fruit fly, and the yeast cell.

"We could see patterns emerge from information in different organisms," Sternberg says. "Now that we have the human genome, we can start asking what a certain gene does in humans, what the homolog does in yeast, or fruit flies, or worms, and what's the common denominator."

WormBase's more immediate goals will be to make the genetic information more computer-accessible to anyone interested, Sternberg says. "The standard of success would be that the bench researcher could get within a minute or two the relevant data for his or her own research, rather than go to the library and pore for hours or days through reading materials."

WormBase will continue an existing database developed by Richard Durbin of the Sanger Centre in the United Kingdom, one of two centers that sequenced the worm genome; Jean Theirry-Mieg, now at the National Center for Biological Information; and Lincoln Stein of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. These researchers will remain involved, Sternberg says, as will John Spieth of the Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis, the other sequencing center.

The new phase of the work will involve biologists in curating new data, including cell function in development, behavior, and physiology; gene expression at a cellular level, and gene interactions—in much the same manner that the Human Genome Project will continue now that the genome itself has been completely sequenced. The National Human Genome Research Institute, which is funding this project, also supports databases of other intensively studied laboratory organisms.

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Caltech and the Human Genome Project

PASADENA- Two of the key inventions that made possible the monumental task of sequencing the human genome came from the California Institute of Technology. These were especially important in the sequencing of the 3 billion DNA base pairs composing the human genome because the inventions speeded up progress on the task.

The first landmark invention was a method for the automated sequencing of DNA by Leroy Hood, then a professor of biology at Caltech, and his colleagues, Mike Hunkapiller, Tim Hunkapiller, Charles Connell, and Lloyd Smith. Before their discovery, figuring out the sequence of a segment of DNA had been exceedingly difficult and laborious. Because the process was so slow and required the work of highly skilled technicians, it was clear to most scientists in the mid '80s that it would not be possible to sequence entire genomes by manual methods.

The method devised by Hood and his colleagues changed that. They developed a novel chemistry that permitted a machine to detect DNA molecules, using fluorescent light. This method revolutionized DNA sequencing, ultimately making it possible to launch the Human Genome Project. Coupled with some recent advances, the method remained the core for the just-completed phase of sequencing the human genome.

A second key invention for the genome project was developed at Caltech by Professor Melvin Simon, chair of Caltech's biology division, and his coworker Hiroaki Shizuya. They recognized that a critical part of sequencing would be preparing large DNA segments for the process. To accomplish this, they invented "bacterial artificial chromosomes" (BACs), which permit scientists to use bacteria as micromachines to accurately replicate pieces of human DNA that are over 100,000 base pairs in length. These BACs provided the major input DNA for both the public genome project and Celera.

The Simon research group was also a major contributor to the mapping and sequencing of chromosome 22-a substantial segment of the human genome, which was completed in 1999. These researchers are presently using genomic information to create an "onco-chip," which will give researchers convenient experimental access to a miniature array containing hundreds of BACs, each carrying a gene whose mutation can cause human cancer.

Caltech researchers, both current and past, have also been important in promoting the Human Genome Project itself-a project that originally met with scientific skepticism when it was born 12 years ago, particularly when the goal of a fully sequenced human genome by the year 2003 was announced.

That skepticism has long since been replaced by wholesale enthusiasm from the scientific community. David Baltimore, president of Caltech and a Nobel laureate for his work on the genes of viruses, was a highly influential supporter of the Human Genome Project at its inception. Baltimore, then a professor of biology at MIT, was one of an international cadre of farsighted biologists that also included Hood and Simon. They shared a vision of the future in which knowledge of every gene that composes the human genome would be available to any scientist in the world at the click of a computer key.

To shape this unprecedented and complex project, Caltech professors Norman Davidson, Barbara Wold, and Steve Koonin have served in national scientific advisory roles to the genome project in the intervening years. Also, Baltimore chaired the National Institutes of Health (NIH) meeting where the human genome project was launched.

Koonin, who is Caltech's provost, was chair of the JASON study of 1997, which noted to the scientific community that quality standards could be relaxed so that a "rough draft" of the human genome could be made years earlier and still be of great utility. This, in fact, was the approach that prevailed.

The Human Genome Project is unique among scientific projects for having set aside, from the beginning, research support for studies of the ethical, legal, and social implications of the new knowledge of human genes that would result. In Caltech's Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences, Professor Daniel Kevles has examined these ethical issues in his book The Code of Codes: Scientific and Social Issues in the Human Genome Project, which he coedited in 1992 with Leroy Hood.

Caltech scientists are also actively engaged in the future of genomics, which is the use of the newly obtained DNA sequences to discover and understand the function of genes in normal biology and in disease and disease susceptibility. This includes devising new ways to extract and manipulate information from the human genome sequence and from recently completed genome sequences of important experimental organisms used by scientists in the laboratory, such as the fruit fly, mustard weed, and yeast.

In one new project, Caltech recently became the home site for the international genome database for a key experimental organism called C. elegans, under the direction of Caltech Professor Paul Sternberg. This tiny worm has about 19,000 different genes, many of which correspond to related genes in humans. The shared origin and functional relationships between the genes of worm and man (and fruit fly and all other animals) let scientists learn much about how human genes work, by studying these small creatures in the laboratory.

The Worm Genome Database, called Wormbase, is undertaking the major task of collecting and making computer-accessible key information about every worm gene, its DNA sequence, and what its function is in the animal. This will require that new methods in automated data-mining and computing be brought together and fused with expert knowledge in biology, and then made accessible by computer to anyone interested.

Because of the relatedness of many genes and their functions among all animals, this information about the worm and its genome will be important for understanding human genes, and vice versa.

Another major genomics effort at Caltech is aimed at understanding how groups of genes work to direct development from a fertilized egg to an adult organism, and how these groups of genes change their action or fail in aging, cancer, or degenerative disease. The genomics approach to these problems involves the application of new computational methods and automated experimental technologies.

To do this, Barbara Wold, together with Mel Simon, Professor Stephen Quake from Caltech's Division of Engineering and Applied Science, and Dr. Eric Mjolsness of the NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, have established the L. K. Whittier/Caltech Gene Expression Center, funded by the Whittier Foundation. The new work in genomics is also fueling new interdisciplinary programs at Caltech in the computational modeling of cells and organisms.

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Caltech appoints Elliot Meyerowitz to head Division of Biology

PASADENA—Elliot Meyerowitz, a specialist in the genetics of flowering plants, has been named chair of the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology. The announcement was made by Steven Koonin, vice president and provost.

Meyerowitz replaces Mel Simon, who is returning to full-time faculty and research duties after serving five years in the office. The appointment becomes effective July 1, and has been approved by the Caltech Board of Trustees.

"A faculty search committee strongly recommended that Elliot Meyerowitz succeed Mel Simon," Koonin said on announcing the appointment. "Elliot is widely respected for his intellect and scientific accomplishments and his demonstrated administrative ability as Executive Officer for Biology.

"The Institute is very fortunate that someone of his caliber has agreed to assume administrative responsibilities," Koonin said.

Meyerowitz, a professor of and current executive officer for biology, has been a member of the Caltech faculty since 1980. His primary research interest is the genes that control the formation of flowers, and how altering these genes will affect flower development. He has identified mutations that cause petal cells to develop into stamens instead, and another mutation that causes these same embryonic petals to become sepals.

Meyerowitz earned his bachelor's degree in biology, summa cum laude, at Columbia University in 1973, and his doctorate at Yale University in 1977. He received the John S. Nicholas Award for Outstanding Biology Dissertation from Yale for his doctoral research. Following a postdoctoral appointment at Stanford, he joined the Caltech faculty as an assistant professor, and was appointed full professor in 1989.

Among his awards is the 1996 "Science pour l'Art" Science Prize, for which he was corecipient, and which was presented in Paris by the firm LVMH—Moët HennessyoLouis Vuitton. The award is presented annually to researchers whose science is of aesthetic and artistic merit.

Meyerowitz also won the Genetics Society of America Medal in 1996, the Gibbs Medal from the American Society of Plant Physiologists in 1995, and the Pelton Award from the Botanical Society of America and the Conservation Research Foundation in 1994.

He was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences in 1995, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991, and the American Philosophical Society in 1998. He was winner of the Richard Lounsbery Award of the National Academy of Sciences in 1999, and received a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship in 1981.

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