|A.K.A.||Jack W. Szostak, Jack William Szostak|
|Is||Scientist Biologist Molecular biologist Geneticist Professor Chemist Biochemist Physician|
|From||United States of America Poland Canada|
|Type||Academia Biology Healthcare Science|
|Birth||9 November 1952, London, UK|
Education and early life
Szostak grew up in Montreal and Ottawa. Although Szostak does not speak Polish, he stated in an interview with Wprost weekly that he remembers his Polish roots. He attended Riverdale High School (Quebec) and graduated at the age of 15 with the scholars prize. He graduated with a B.Sc in cell biology from McGill University at the age of 19. In 1970, as an undergraduate, he participated in The Jackson Laboratory's Summer Student Program under the mentorship of Dr. Chen K. Chai. He completed his PhD in biochemistry at Cornell University (advisor Prof. Ray Wu) before moving to Harvard Medical School to start his own lab at the Sidney Farber Cancer Institute. He credits Ruth Sager for giving him his job there when he had little yet to show. In 1984 Howard Goodman recruited him to Massachusetts General Hospital and the Department of Molecular Biology. He was granted tenure and a full professorship at Harvard Medical School in 1988.
Research and career
Szostak has made contributions to the field of genetics. He is credited with the construction of the world's first yeast artificial chromosome. That achievement helped scientists to map the location of genes in mammals and to develop techniques for manipulating genes. His achievements in this area are also instrumental to the Human Genome Project.
His discoveries have helped to clarify the events that lead to chromosomal recombination—the reshuffling of genes that occurs during meiosis—and the function of telomeres, the specialized DNA sequences at the tips of chromosomes.
In the early 90s his laboratory shifted its research direction and focused on studying RNA enzymes, which had been recently discovered by Cech and Altman. He developed the technique of in vitro evolution of RNA (also developed independently by Gerald Joyce) which enables the discovery of RNAs with desired functions through successive cycles of selection, amplification and mutation. He isolated the first aptamer (term he used for the first time). He isolated RNA enzymes with RNA ligase activity directly from random sequence (project of David Bartel).
Currently, his lab focuses on the challenges of understanding the origin of life on Earth, and the construction of artificial cellular life in the laboratory. They have conducted detailed studies of mechanisms by which RNA templates may have replicated on early earth before the emergence of enzyme catalysts. In particular, they have focused on imidazole-activated ribonucleotides (phosphorimidazolides) as monomers capable of elongating a new RNA strand. Significantly, the Szostak group discovered that phosphorimidazolide-mediated template elongation occurs via 5'-5'-imidazolium bridged dinucleotide intermediates which accelerate polymerization. Phosphorimidazolides were first proposed to be critical for early-earth nucleotide polymerization by Leslie E. Orgel and colleagues.
Beyond his research, he has delivered talks about the origin of life on Earth, as he did at the first Starmus Festival in the Canary Islands, in 2011. He subsequently joined the Starmus Board of Directors, and his 2011 lecture was published in the book Starmus: 50 Years of Man in Space.
Awards and honors
Szostak has received several awards and honors for his contributions. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and New York Academy of Sciences, and is a member of the Kosciuszko Foundation Collegium of Eminent Scientists of Polish Origin and Ancestry.
He has received the following awards:
- United States National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology
- Hans Sigrist Prize, University of Bern, Switzerland
- Genetics Society of America Medal
- The 2006 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research
- The 2008 Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics, Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
- The 2009 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine (shared with Elizabeth Blackburn and Carol W. Greider)
- The 2011 Oparin Medal
An organism's genes are stored within DNA molecules, which are found in chromosomes inside its cells' nuclei. When a cell divides, it is important that its chromosomes are copied in full, and that they are not damaged. At each end of a chromosome lies a "cap" or telomere, as it is known, which protects it. After Elizabeth Blackburn discovered that telomeres have a particular DNA, through experiments conducted on ciliates and yeast, she and Jack Szostak proved in 1982 that the telomeres' DNA prevents chromosomes from being broken down,
according to the statement released by the Alfred Nobel Foundation.
Szostak is married to Terri-Lynn McCormick and has two sons. He has two sisters, Carolyn Szostak and Kathy Hysen.