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Steven McKnight wins Welch Award

by Linda Wang
October 17, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 40


Steven L. McKnight, Distinguished Chair in Basic Biomedical Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, is the winner of the 2020 Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. The $500,000 prize recognizes basic chemical research that benefits humankind. McKnight will also receive a gold medallion.

“Steve McKnight has done creative and breakthrough science for decades,” Peter B. Dervan, chair of the Welch Foundation Scientific Advisory Board, says in a statement. “Throughout his 45-year career, he has used molecular, biochemical and biophysical methods to study regulatory pathways. These findings provided the initial conceptual framework for understanding how combinatorial models of DNA regulatory proteins generate the complex patterns of gene expression required for growth and development.”

According to the award citation, McKnight is being honored “for his original contributions that identified the regulatory regions of eukaryotic genes, gene specific transcription factors, and the role of low complexity sequences in proteins that form functional and reversible aggregates in phase-separated hydrogels.”

McKnight says that receiving the award was “a huge surprise.” He credits the Welch Foundation for the many advances that have come out of the Biochemistry Department at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center over the more than 2 decades that he served as chair of the department. “If not for their support, we would never have been able to make the chemical inhibitor of the HIF2a transcription factor that is now helping patients suffering from kidney cancer,” McKnight says.

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