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Lasker Awards Recognize Chemists

October 11, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 41

Four chemists have received prestigious 2004 Lasker Awards. Often referred to as "America's Nobels," the Lasker Awards have been given out by the Albert & Mary Lasker Foundation since 1946 to encourage public appreciation of achievements in medical science and increase public support for research. More than 60 recipients have gone on to win Nobel Prizes.

Pierre Chambon, of the Institute of Genetics & Molecular & Cellular Biology, Strasbourg, France; Ronald M. Evans, of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, Calif.; and Elwood V. Jensen, of the University of Chicago and the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine, received the 2004 Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research for their work on nuclear hormone receptor research.

The trio found that, unexpectedly, a common mechanism governs a diverse group of signaling molecules, including steroid hormones, thyroid hormones, and fat-soluble molecules, such as vitamins A and D, that regulate a plethora of physiological pathways operating from embryonic growth through adulthood.

Harvard University's Matthew S. Meselson received the 2004 Albert Lasker Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science for his lifetime achievements both in molecular biology and in leadership on public policy issues relating to chemical and biological weapons.

Meselson's early research included work with Franklin Stahl showing that DNA duplication produces two identical daughter molecules, each containing one parental and one newly formed strand. He also developed new methodology known as equilibrium density gradient centrifugation, which he later used to help elucidate the existence of messenger RNA and the process of genetic recombination. Before turning to questions of sexual reproduction and evolution, he also found what is considered to be the first restriction enzyme.

In addition, Meselson has worked extensively toward preventing the production and use of biological and chemical weapons. As part of the Arms Control & Disarmament Agency, he helped convince President Richard M. Nixon to abandon the U.S. biological and chemical weapons programs. He also visited Vietnam, where he showed that the U.S. was mistaking civilian rice fields for enemy soldiers' crops; Southeast Asia, where he studied "yellow rain"; and Russia, where he investigated an anthrax epidemic. In addition, with Julian Perry Robinson of the University of Sussex, in England, he codirects the Harvard Sussex Program, which aims to increase the contribution of scholarship to the formation of public policy on issues involving biological and chemical weapons.



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