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Yale scientist wins inaugural ASBMB award for her work on regulation of gene expression

ROCKVILLE, Md., Dec. 22, 2011 The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has named Elisabetta Ullu, professor of internal medicine and cell biology at the Yale University School of Medicine, the winner of the society's inaugural Alice and C.C. Wang award.

Ullu received the award, named after an internationally recognized researcher in parasitology, for her laboratory's work with the protozoan parasite Trypanosoma brucei, which causes African sleeping sickness, to uncover a novel mechanism of gene silencing known as RNA interference.

While working on RNA synthesis and processing pathways in T. brucei, Ullu hit upon the phenomenon of RNA interference (RNAi), in which small, noncoding RNA molecules, rather than proteins, regulate gene expression. Ullu's discovery of RNAi "made a revolution in the ability to investigate the function of genes in parasites," said Shulamit Michaeli from the Israel Science Foundation in supporting her nomination. The importance of RNAi as a biological phenomenon was cemented in 2006, when the Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine was awarded to Andrew Fire and Craig Mello for describing the process in roundworm nematodes.

Award namesake C.C. Wang praised Ullu's selection. "I think Elisabetta is a fantastic choice and an ideal recipient of the award from the eyes of my wife Alice and myself," he said.

The society's president, Suzanne Pfeffer, concurred. "Elisabetta Ullu is exactly the kind of recipient the society had in mind when this award was established by Alice and C. C. Wang. Her work has made, and will continue to make, extraordinary contributions to the fundamental principles of molecular parasitology."

A native of Italy, Ullu received her Ph.D. from the University of Rome in 1973. She continued worked at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, before taking a position at Yale University in 1984, where she has been ever since.

Ullu will receive her award during the Experimental Biology 2012 conference in San Diego, where she will deliver an award lecture. The presentation will take place at 3:45 p.m. April 22 in the San Diego Convention Center.

The Alice and C.C. Wang award aims to recognize established investigators who are making seminal contributions to the field of molecular parasitology, focusing in particular on novel and significant discoveries on the biology of parasitic organisms. The award's namesake, Ching Chung "C.C." Wang, is a professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco. Professor Wang has made key contributions to the understanding of the biology of many pathogenic protozoa. The award consists of $35,000 for use by the recipient's research laboratory, a plaque and travel expenses for the recipient to attend and speak at the ASBMB annual meeting at EB2012.


Contact: Geoff Hunt
American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

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