San Diego chemist wins national award for protein discoveries

Chemist Susan Serota Taylor of Del Mar, Calif., will be honored April 3 by the world's largest scientific society for her pioneering role in opening up a new field of research. She studies a family of proteins that help control growth, hormone action, memory and immune response. She will receive the 2001 Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal from the American Chemical Society at its 221st national meeting in San Diego.

"The proteins I study are molecular switches. They get turned on by a signal from outside cells, like any kind of stress or a drop in blood glucose, and translate that into a biological response," said Taylor.

The University of California, San Diego, biochemist is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, one of an elite group of scientists in the United States funded lavishly by HHMI.

When Taylor began her research in the mid-1970s, she chose to study a simple protein of what was then a small, fairly obscure family. Now researchers know there are over 500 genes for protein kinases, directing differentiation in the embryo to regulating adult metabolism.

Taylor's most outstanding contribution, published in 1991, was solving the three-dimensional structure of the first kinase, called cyclic AMP-dependent protein kinase. Making the leap from sequence on paper to 3-D picture of its folds, twists, and active sites "provided a Rosetta Stone for the whole family," she said, revealing not just how the kinases look but how they work.

Today, researchers use such information to design drugs for kinase-related diseases, including many cancers.

Taylor said she was first hooked on chemistry by her freshman chemistry teacher in college. "He was someone who just loved chemistry, who could communicate his enthusiasm," she said. "My biochemical research has always had a chemical foundation because of him."

She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1964 and her Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University

Contact: Rodney Pearson
American Chemical Society

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