Issue Date: July 7, 2008
HHMI Names New Investigators
Howard Hughes Medical Institute has named 56 researchers—including five chemists—as the latest crop of HHMI investigators. The nonprofit biomedical research organization says it will invest more than $600 million in their work in an effort to free the scientists to "tackle their most ambitious, risky research plans."
HHMI President Thomas R. Cech notes that the researchers "are poised to advance scientific knowledge dramatically in the coming years, and we are committed to providing them with the flexibility to do so."
The chemistry and biochemistry professors among the new HHMI investigators are Christopher J. Chang, University of California, Berkeley; Catherine L. Drennan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Jay T. Groves, UC Berkeley; Julie A. Theriot, Stanford University School of Medicine; and Wilfred A. van der Donk, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
These researchers have ambitious goals. Theriot, for instance, is using cells from fish scales to create an artificial cell capable of crawling. The project will help her understand the biochemistry and biomechanics of whole-cell movement, according to HHMI.
Chang plans to examine the function of hydrogen peroxide in brain cell signaling, growth, and differentiation. Nitric oxide, another radical involved in cell signaling, "taught us you can't think that free-radical chemistry is only bad for you," he says.
The new investigators, who will become HHMI employees but maintain their faculty appointments at their home institutions, join more than 300 investigators whom HHMI already employs. Investigators are appointed for five-year terms, which can be renewed through a review process.
The institute usually holds national competitions every three years to select new investigators. In most of its prior competitions, HHMI required applicants to be nominated by their institutions. This time, to attract a wider array of candidates, HHMI solicited applications directly from researchers (C&EN Online, April 12, 2007). The new process drew 1,070 applicants.
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