Baltimore, MDDirector Emeritus Donald Brown, of Carnegie's Department of Embryology, receives the prestigious 2012 Lasker-Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science "For exceptional leadership and citizenship in biomedical scienceexemplified by fundamental discoveries concerning the nature of genes; and by selfless commitment to young scientists." Brown is honored along with Tom Maniatis of Columbia University.
Brown received his M.D. and M.S. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago Medical School in 1956. It was during medical school that he began to wonder how embryos develop. At the time, scientists had mapped out the process that produced anatomical features, but not the molecular underpinnings. Brown launched a bold, independent research program to study the details by looking at embryos that die particularly earlywhen new ribosomes, cellular protein factories, start accumulating. Brown, in collaboration with John Gurdon (Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, 2009), discerned that a structure called the nucleolus manufactures structural RNAs of the ribosome (ribosomal RNAs, or rRNAs).
Frog embryos do not make ribosomes during the first few days of development. Instead, they use the stockpile that the egg endowed to them. No one knew how a single cell could churn out so many protein-making factories. Brown and Igor Dawid (and, independently, Carnegie's Joseph Gall, Lasker Special Achievement Award, 2006) showed that frog eggs create extra rRNA genes. The researchers revealed the first example of gene amplification, a process that underlies other processes, including the runaway growth of drug-resistant cancer cells.
Brown used the amplified genes to isolate and study rRNA genes, which later resulted in studying genes via recombinant DNAa laboratory method that brings genetic material from various sources to produce sequences that are not found in nature. Brown used recombinant DNA to analyze an RNA called 5S
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