Nobel Laureate gives lecture in evolutionary biology Oct. 26 and 27

Jack Szostak, an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a professor of genetics at the Harvard University Medical School, the Alex Rich Distinguished Investigator in the Department of Molecular Biology and the Center for Computational and Integrative Biology at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a winner of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, will present the Russell Marker Lectures in Evolutionary Biology on Sept. 26 and 27, at the Penn State University Park campus. The free public lectures are sponsored by the Penn State Eberly College of Science. The series includes a lecture intended for a general audience, titled "The Origin of Life," at 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 26. Szostak also will give a more specialized lecture, titled "Towards Self-Replicating Genetic Polymers," at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 27. Both lectures will take place in the Berg Auditorium, 100 Life Sciences Building.

Szostak's research interests include the origin of life and the laboratory synthesis of self-replicating systems. He is working to recreate a hypothetical model of the evolutionary process in the laboratory. In his presentation for a general audience on Sept. 26, he will focus on key components that may contribute to resolving the mystery of how the process of evolution began. He will discuss efforts to design and build very simple living cells, assumptions about the nature of life, ideas about how life emerged from the chemistry of the early Earth, and clues to how modern life evolved from its earliest ancestors.

In his more specialized lecture on Sept. 27, Szostak will discuss his team's recent progress towards the realization of an efficient and accurate system for the chemical replication of an informational polymer like RNA. He also will describe ways in which a chemically replicating nucleic acid could lead to evolutionary changes in the membrane composition of a simple protocell, and ways in which the evolving cell membrane could enhance the replication of nucleic acid.

Szostak's early research was on the genetics and biochemistry of DNA recombination, which led to the double-strand-break repair model for meiotic recombination -- the reshuffling of genes that occurs during meiosis. Szostak also has made fundamental contributions to research on telomere structure and function and the role of telomere maintenance in preventing cellular senescence -- the phenomenon by which normal diploid cells lose the ability to divide. For this work, Szostak shared both the 2006 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with fellow scientists, Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University and Elizabeth Blackburn of the University of California. Szostak also is credited with the construction of the world's first yeast artificial chromosome (YAC), which helps scientists to map the location of genes in mammals and to develop techniques for manipulating genes.

In addition to the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Szostak was awarded the 1994 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology and the 1997 Sigrist Prize from the University of Bern. In 2000, he was awarded the Medal of the Genetics Society of America, and in 2008 he received the H.P. Heineken Prize in Biophysics and Biochemistry.

Szostak received a bachelor's degree in cell biology from McGill University in Canada. He received both a doctoral degree and postdoctoral training in biochemistry from Cornell University before joining the faculty of the Harvard University Medical School. Szostak is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of the New York Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Marker Lectures were established in 1984 through a gift from Russell Earl Marker, professor emeritus of chemistry at Penn State, whose pioneering synthetic methods revolutionized the steroid-hormone industry and opened the door to the current era of hormone therapies, including the birth-control pill. The Marker endowment allows the Penn State Eberly College of Science to present annual Marker Lectures in astronomy and astrophysics, the chemical sciences, evolutionary biology, genetic engineering, the mathematical sciences, and physics.

For more information about the lecture or for access assistance, contact the Department of Biology at 814-865-4562.



Last Updated September 13, 2011