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Jacobs-Wagner named Howard Hughes Investigator

New Haven, Conn. - Yale Universitys Christine Jacobs-Wagner has been designated an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, a non-profit medical research organization that is one of the nations largest philanthropies.

Jacobs-Wagner, the Maxine Singer Associate Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, becomes one of 17 Yale scientists who now hold the prestigious appointment. HHMI was founded to supplement biomedical research efforts of some of the nations top scientists.

Jacobs-Wagner is one of the worlds leading experts on the internal cellular workings of bacteria, which have proved to be much more complex than scientists imagined a decade ago. Her descriptions of the inner mechanisms of bacteria have led to an appreciation of the survival strategies of these ancient organisms and new insights into how to study modern human illnesses.

There is a level of sophistication that no one had anticipated, Jacobs-Wagner said.

We are delighted that HHMI has recognized Christines creativity in addressing fascinating questions about the internal organization of bacteria, said Thomas Pollard, M.D.,Sterling professor and chairman of the Department of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology.

Jacobs-Wagner and her team have made several startling discoveries by studying the bacterium Caulobacter crescentus, which has several advantages for researchers. For instance, the bacterium undergoes distinct morphological changes during its cell cycle, which has enabled Jacobs-Wagner to investigate roles of proteins at particular locations and times within the life cycle of cells.

Scientists in the last few years, for instance, have discovered that actin and tubulin, two proteins crucial in determining the shape of eukaryotic cells are also at work in bacteria. Jacobs-Wagner found that some bacteria also host proteins known as intermediate filaments, once thought only to exist in animal cells. She has shown that knocking out intermediate filaments, which have been linked to some 30 human diseases, can change the shape of the bacteria.

Her lab has also developed techniques to track the location of proteins at different points of the cell cycle. The work has enabled her lab to show that the location of a protein at different times can have significant impact on a cells function. These mechanisms help regulate how dividing cells with same genetic make-up can become morphologically and physiologically different.

Jacobs-Wagner might never have donned a lab white coat if a shoulder injury had not ended her badminton career. It was then the former Belgian national team member turned to her second loves, molecular biology and biochemistry.

Those interests led her to study of how bacteria became resistant to antibiotics and instilled in her a passion for seemingly simple organisms. She received her bachelors and masters degrees in biochemistry at the University of Lige, in Belgium and her doctorate at Lige and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. She joined Yale as an assistant professor in 2001.

In the past two decades HHMI has made investments of more than $8.3 billion for the support, training, and education of the nations most creative and promising scientists. The Institute commits almost $700 million a year for research and distributes $80 million in grant support for science education.


Contact: Bill Hathaway
Yale University

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