March of Dimes awards $250,000 prize to research pioneer

WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. MAY 1, 2006 -- For explaining how a tiny protein plays a major role in our lives by helping to regulate many crucial processes in human cells, Alexander Varshavsky, Ph.D., has been chosen as the 2006 recipient of the March of Dimes Prize in Developmental Biology, to be awarded May 1 in San Francisco, California.

The March of Dimes Prize is a cash award of $250,000 and a silver medal in the design of the Roosevelt dime, in honor of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who founded the March of Dimes.

Dr. Varshavsky, the Howard and Gwen Laurie Smits Professor of Cell Biology in the Division of Biology at the California Institute of Technology, has been credited by his peers with co-founding the field of ubiquitin research and ushering it into the age of molecular genetics. His pioneering studies in the 1980s brought to light the remarkably diverse and important biological functions of the ubiquitin system.

Ubiquitin (from the Latin ubique meaning "everywhere," the source of the word "ubiquitous"), is a protein found in every cell of all living things, from yeast to human beings. It attaches itself to many other proteins in cells specifically those proteins that have outlived their purpose, or are abnormal, or must be destroyed to regulate their levels in a cell. Ubiquitin marks these proteins for destruction by a protein-degrading molecular "machine" called the proteasome.

Dr. Varshavsky's laboratory discovered that ubiquitin plays important roles in the cell cycle, DNA repair, protein synthesis, transcriptional regulation, and responses to stress. Dr. Varshavsky and coworkers also discovered "degradation" signals in short-lived proteins, the source of ubiquitin's selectivity as well as a fundamental property of the ubiquitin system that makes it possible to remodel multi-subunit proteins by destroying them partially, "one subunit at a time." His work revealed that the regulation of cells through selective

Contact: Elizabeth Lynch
March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation

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