Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Harvard Medical School investigator Gary Ruvkun, PhD, is one of three co-recipients of the 2008 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. Presented by the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation, the Lasker Awards are often considered the American version of the Nobel Prize, and many Lasker recipients have gone on to win the Nobel. The award will be presented in New York on Friday, Sept. 26.
Ruvkun and his co-recipients Victor Ambros, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School and David Baulcombe, PhD, FRS, University of Cambridge in the U.K. are being honored for discovering that tiny molecules of RNA can control the activity of critical genes in animals and plants. Instead of being translated into proteins as messenger RNAs are, single-stranded microRNAs bind to regulatory segments of their target genes' RNA and block gene expression. Current knowledge suggests that microRNAs may control one third of human protein-coding genes.
In the early 1980s Ruvkun and Ambros were both fellows in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology laboratory of Robert Horvitz, PhD, investigating genes that control development in the C. elegans roundworm. They worked together to isolate a gene called lin-14 that operates in concert with a gene called lin-4 to regulate the worms' transition through key developmental stages.
As the two researchers established their own laboratories Ruvkun in the MGH Department of Molecular Biology and Ambros at Harvard they continued collaborating to uncover how the two regulatory genes interacted and made some surprising discoveries. Lin-4 did not block the activity of lin-14 through the protein it coded for but in a manner never seen before by direct interaction between the two genes' RNA strands. These critical RNA molecules also appeared to be extremely small, around 20 nucleotides long. In the meantime Baulcombe was pursuing similar research in plants. His
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Massachusetts General Hospital