December 19, 2008

Four honored by AAAS for science contributions

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Four honored by AAAS for science contributions

Four Vanderbilt faculty members — Daniel Liebler, Ph.D., Charles Sanders, Ph.D., Gary Sulikowski, Ph.D., and Michael Waterman, Ph.D. — have been elected fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an honor bestowed upon them by their peers.

They are among 486 scientists from around the country who have been elevated to this rank because of their efforts to advance science or its applications that are deemed scientifically or socially distinguished. New fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue rosette pin on Saturday, Feb. 14, at the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago.

Liebler, director of the Jim Ayers Institute for Pre-Cancer Detection and

Diagnosis, was cited for “distinguished contributions to the development of

proteomics and applications to mechanistic toxicology.”

Liebler, who is a professor of Biochemistry, Pharmacology and Biomedical Informatics, focuses on how environmental factors such as chemicals and drugs interact with cellular proteomes (the full protein content of cells) to affect health and disease.

His group is developing and applying new proteomics methods to detect and analyze protein modifications and to identify protein targets of reactive chemicals. Using these technologies, Liebler and colleagues also are defining biomarkers for the detection of pre-cancerous lesions.

Sanders, professor of Biochemistry, was honored for “distinguished contributions to the elucidation of membrane protein structure and to the advancement and integrity of scientific publishing as Associate Editor of Biochemistry.”

Sanders studies the structural and chemical biology of membrane proteins, with particular emphasis on how protein mis-folding causes disease. His group is currently focusing on several membrane proteins that mis-fold as a result of mutations and cause diseases including peripheral neuropathy (Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease), diabetes insipidus and Alzheimer's disease. For each system, Sanders and colleagues are examining protein energetics, kinetics and structural characteristics, with the ultimate goal of using what they learn to develop novel therapeutics that will correct or prevent protein mis-folding.

Sulikowski, Stevenson Professor of Chemistry and associate director of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology's chemical synthesis core, was commended for his contributions to the field of natural products synthesis and biosynthesis.

Sulikowski's research group has synthesized several anti-tumor antibiotics isolated from various soil microorganisms; studied the biosynthesis of two compounds called phomoidrides derived from fungi identified by Pfizer during a screening of natural product extracts for anticancer and cholesterol-lowering activity and, in the process, discovered two additional phomoidrides. Currently, he and his colleagues are pursuing the synthesis of several natural products: an anti-malarial agent isolated from coral; alkaloids from Indonesian sponges; and, an antibiotic derived from a soil bacterium that has shown selective cytotoxicity to colon cancer cells.

Waterman, Natalie Overall Warren Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry and chair of the department, was cited for “distinguished contributions to the field of biochemistry, particularly for characterization of cytochrome P450 enzymes.”

Waterman's group has particular interest in the cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzyme required for sterol biosynthesis and has recently determined the high-resolution crystal structure of this protein from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. They continue to study this enzyme in trypanosome parasites. Waterman and colleagues also are characterizing the 18 CYP enzymes expressed by the soil bacterium Streptomyces coelicolor, which produces about 70 percent of commercially used antimicrobial compounds. They aim to generate modified S. coelicolor strains that will produce novel antibiotics or will efficiently detoxify mutagens in the environment.

All four scientists are members of the Vanderbilt Institute of Chemical Biology.

Founded in 1848, the AAAS is the world's largest federation of scientists and includes some 262 affiliated societies and academies, serving 10 million individuals. The association works to advance science for human well-being through its projects, programs and publications. It conducts many programs in the areas of science policy, science education and international scientific cooperation.