The Daily Californian Online

Campus Professor Jennifer Doudna Elected to Institute of Medicine

By Madeleine Key
Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Category: News > University > Research and Ideas

Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology Jennifer Doudna, shown here in her Stanley Hall laboratory, was elected as one of 65 new members to the Institute of Medicine.

The Institute of Medicine announced the election of Jennifer Doudna, UC Berkeley professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, as one of their new members Tuesday for her contributions to the fields of health and medicine.

Doudna was selected as one of 65 new members to the institute, a recognition that will allow her to participate in the creation of reports and recommendations on matters of health and policy in medicine. She has pioneered some of the first techniques used to study the structure of RNA and has spent the last nine years at UC Berkeley continuing to study the RNA molecule at the atomic level and how it interacts with proteins, according to Andy Mehle, a postdoctoral researcher in Doudna's lab.

"I was really surprised and really delighted," Doudna said of the announcement. "It's an honor to become part of an organization like the IOM - one that's made it its mission to try to provide leadership and guidance about health in the U.S."

According to Christine Stencel, spokesperson for the institute, the selection process is completely anonymous and highly competitive. Each year, current institute members nominate and elect 65 new members - a process that ensures the honor is solely conferred by one's peers, Stencel said.

"Is this someone who has made a notable achievement in a particular field? Have they issued landmark papers that have influenced health policy?" Stencel said, providing examples of why someone might be nominated.

The institute focuses its research on projects that directly impact human health, which Doudna said she finds very exciting.

"I want my research to have an impact on people in a very real way," she said.

Blake Wiedenheft, another postdoctoral researcher in Doudna's lab, said the unifying theme of the numerous projects currently being conducted through the lab is the attempt to understand RNA-protein interactions.

"Why could these types of interactions be exciting? Because the fundamental processes of biology rely on them," said Wiedenheft, adding that the lab's basic scientific discoveries could have a wide range of clinically and industrially relevant applications.

Doudna - also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute - said her interest in RNA stems from its unique capacity to both carry genetic information and carry out genetic instructions.

"It's a very interesting biological molecule, thought to be an important player in the evolution of cells and all organisms on earth," she said.

But the most rewarding aspect of her career has been the ability to mentor and lead other scientists, Doudna said.

"I'm the most proud of all of the wonderful people I've had the pleasure of working with," she said, counting at least 20 former employees who have gone on to hold accomplished positions in the private and academic sectors.

Mehle said that all one has to do is look at Doudna's intellectual progeny to recognize what an impact she has had.

"She's been able to facilitate the careers of many successful scientists," he said.

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