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Two Young Women Geneticists Receive 2016 Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award; Mary-Claire King Comments

The Genetics Society of America (GSA), the American Society for Human Genetics (ASHG), and The Gruber Foundatio recently announced that Maria Barna, Ph.D., of Stanford University; and Carolyn McBride (photo), Ph.D., of Princeton University, are the 2016 recipients of the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award. The Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award is funded by The Gruber Foundation and is awarded every three years to two women geneticists at the beginning of their independent research careers. Winners are selected by a joint committee appointed by the GSA and the ASHG from nominees from around the world. The award recognizes outstanding genetics research in two categories: mammalian genetics, including human genetics; and non-mammalian genetics. Each winner will receive a $75,000 award to be used as she chooses for her research. “The Rosalind Franklin Award celebrates the accomplishments of the next generation of young women scientists, who are following the path laid down by our fore-mothers,” said Mary-Claire King, Ph.D., Chair of the Rosalind Franklin Award committee and Professor of Genome Sciences and Medicine (Medical Genetics) at the University of Washington. Dr. King is world-famous for her seminal research into the genetics of breast cancer, which largely enabled the identification of both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer genes. “Reading the creative work of these remarkable young women is a great joy for the committee. We congratulate the winners and send our very best wishes for continued success to all the nominees.” Dr. Barna, the 2016 recipient in human and mammalian genetics, uses mouse genetics to understand how ribosomes process information to create proteins for different types of cells and tissues. Dr. Barna received her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from New York University and her Ph.D. in molecular biology from Cornell University and Sloan-Kettering Institute.

Her doctoral research focused on the genetic basis of limb development. Building on her post-doctoral research conducted at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Dr. Barna currently studies the ribosome molecular machine in her own laboratory at Stanford University.

She works with a series of mouse mutants to reveal traits affecting processes including eye development, limb development, and reproduction.

Dr. Barna has demonstrated that ribosomes are highly heterogeneous and specialized, providing an additional layer of gene regulation that she terms the “ribocode.”

Her research has implications for control of cell specification and tissue patterning across all species and in human medical genetics for multiple birth defects and human cancers.

Dr. McBride, the 2016 recipient in genetics of non-mammalian organisms, combines neuroscience, evolutionary biology, genomics, and field work to understand the genetic bases of mosquito behavior.

Dr. McBride received her bachelor’s degree in biology from Williams College and her Ph.D. in population biology from the University of California, Davis (UC-Davis).

In her doctoral research, she studied the evolutionary changes to fruit flies and butterflies that result when they shift to preferring a new food plant.

As an early-career scientist at The Rockefeller University, Dr. McBride shifted her research focus to neurogenetics, undertaking an entirely new set of experimental approaches.

She has been instrumental in establishing the mosquito as a model system to understand the genetic basis of behavior. For example, she applied genetics and molecular biology to understand why some populations of mosquitoes favor non-human animal hosts and others favor human hosts. Dr. McBride’s research demonstrates how genes control recently evolved behaviors that contribute to the spread of human disease by mosquitoes.

The committee also gave honorable mention to two additional outstanding candidates: Rachel Dutton, Ph.D., of the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), for her work on the genetic mechanisms of the formation of microbial communities in cheese; and Elizabeth Murchison, Ph.D., of Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, for her work on transmissible cancers in dogs and Tasmanian devils.

The 2016 Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Awards will be presented at the ASHG 2015 Annual Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, on Friday, October 9, 2015, in conjunction with the Gruber Genetics Prize Presentation.

The prestigious Gruber Genetics Prize for 2015 will be presented to Dr. Emmanuele Charpentier and Dr. Jennifer Doudna in recognition of their joint creation of a revolutionary gene-editing technology known as CRISPR-Cas9, which functions as a molecular scissor, generating double-stranded cuts in targeted DNA molecules with exceptional precision. The technology is being used around the world to advance biological research and to engineer genes for developing powerful new therapies for a wide range of human diseases, as well as new biofuels and agricultural products.

[ASHG press release] [Gruber Foundation Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award] [Gruber Genetics Prize] [Genetics Society of America] [American Society for Human Genetics] [ASHG 2015 Annual Meetinga]