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Molecular biologist receives Humboldt Research Award

Feb. 27, 2009, 11:03 AM

[Note: Click here for a high resolution photo of Ellen Fanning. ]

Ellen H. Fanning, Stevenson Professor of Biological Sciences at Vanderbilt University, has received a 2009 Humboldt Research Award.

The award is granted by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Bonn, Germany for the purpose of encouraging research collaborations between German scientists and colleagues in other countries. The foundation grants up to 100 such awards annually.

According to the foundation, the award is given to “outstanding scientists and scholars from all disciplines from abroad whose fundamental discoveries, new theories or insights have had significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.”

Fanning’s research has focused on understanding DNA replication in mammalian cells. She has played a leading role in turning a special virus – simian virus 40 (SV40) – into a powerful model system for studying how mammalian cells divide and reproduce by making use of the fact that the virus relies heavily on the replication machinery of its host cell and uses a single viral protein, T antigen, to co-opt the cellular proteins that it needs to copy itself.

This has allowed Fanning and her colleagues to identify a number of the host proteins that are essential for cell replication, figure out how they function and determine how they fit into the complex network of molecular pathways that orchestrate the normal process of cell division in mammals.

Fanning will use the award, valued at nearly $76,000, to travel to Erlangen, Germany where she will work with professors Bernhard Fleckenstein and Walter Doerfler, both at the Institute for Virology at Erlangen University Medical School. There she will investigate whether a form of misregulation induced by SV40 is also used by a number of other animal viruses that are being studied at Erlangen and possibly other German research institutes. At the same time, she will continue an ongoing collaboration with the Doerfler group on the molecular origins of the human Fragile X Syndrome, the most common cause of inherited mental impairment.

Media Contact: David F. Salisbury, (615) 322-NEWS

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