LMB Director Jan Löwe announces the 2022 recipients of the Perutz Student Prize, Joan A. Steitz Postdoc Prize and Eileen Southgate Prize
Following two years of virtual events, this year the annual Lab Symposium returned to the LMB’s Max Perutz Lecture Theatre, featuring a packed week of talks from PhD students, postdocs, Group Leaders, Facility Heads and more. The Symposium culminated with the awarding of the Perutz Student Prize, Joan A. Steitz Postdoc Prize, and the inaugural Eileen Southgate Prize. All three prizes are supported by the Max Perutz Fund, established in 1980 in honour of LMB co-founder Max Perutz.
Perutz Student Prize
The Perutz Student Prize has been awarded annually since 1984, and is given to recognise outstanding work at the LMB prior to the award of a PhD. The 2022 prize has been awarded to Niklas Freund, Stanislau Yatskevich and Sofia Lövestam.
Niklas, a PhD student in Philipp Holliger’s group, developed polymerases that act on non-native nucleotides. His work exploited steric differences in modified nucleotides to engineer enzymes that efficiently accommodate these distinct substrates. He leveraged his engineered enzymes to yield exciting new aptamers with unique ligands. This work holds tremendous potential for therapeutic benefit through in vitro evolution of new catalysts and aptamers.
Stanislau, a PhD student in David Barford’s group, used electron cryo-tomography to reveal the native structure of the γ-TuRC complex, identifying new mechanisms that resolve long-standing questions of how microtubules are nucleated at the mitotic spindle. He also reconstituted and solved the structure of a kinetochore complex, which revealed how the spindle connects to chromatin to drive chromosome segregation, illuminating two of the most important processes required for mitosis
Sofia, a PhD student in Sjors Scheres’ group, achieved the in vitro recreation of Tau filaments found in the brains of humans with diverse neurodegenerative diseases. She tested myriads of conditions to reach this goal and transformed electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM) of the filaments into a high-throughput platform technology. This work heralds the beginning of a new era, providing opportunities to study and interfere with this pathological process.
Joan A. Steitz Postdoc Prize
The Joan A. Steitz Postdoc Prize (formally the Brenner Postdoc Prize), endowed by a Royalty Pharma donation to the Max Perutz Fund, is given to exceptional postdoctoral researchers with fewer than six years in post. The 2022 recipients are George Ghanim, Sami Chaaban and Yang Yang.
George, a postdoc in Kelly Nguyen’s group, has made significant contributions to the understanding of telomerase. He was instrumental in the high-resolution structure determination of human telomerase, providing beautiful mechanistic explanations for some of the secrets of this important enzyme. He then went on to overcome long-standing biochemical problems with the shelterin complex to investigate what makes telomeres stable in cells.
Sami, a postdoc in Andrew Carter’s group, has pioneered approaches to visualise dynein motor complexes by cryo-EM when bound to microtubules. This work led to the discovery of the molecular logic of how adaptors are used to connect the motors to cargos, and how connections between motors explain dynein’s stepping behaviour.
Yang Yang, a postdoc in Sjors Scheres’ group, determined the cryo-EM structures of Aβ42 and α-synuclein assemblies, the two most common assemblies in neurodegenerative diseases. The nature of the α-synuclein filaments is such that others had thought it was impossible to solve their structure. This work is poised to have an exceptional impact in the field of neurodegeneration and is now being used to address outstanding mechanistic questions.
Joan, who began her pioneering RNA research as a postdoc with Mark Bretscher between 1967-1970, virtually joined the prize ceremony, commenting, “Being a postdoc at the LMB was a life-changing adventure for me. It was an incredible gift to experience all the opportunities I had at the LMB. Congratulations to all the winners.”
Eileen Southgate Prize
As part of the LMB’s pledge under the Technician Commitment, the LMB has introduced the Eileen Southgate Prize to reward staff who have made an exceptional contribution in supporting science at the LMB. The prize is named in honour of Eileen Southgate, a technician at the LMB from 1956 to 1993. She was instrumental in Sydney Brenner’s work to map the C. elegans nervous system, and provided key support to Max Perutz and John Kendrew’s Nobel Prize winning work on the structures of haemoglobin and myoglobin. The inaugural prize is shared by Jon Howe, Carolyn Karam, Sew-Yeu Peak-Chew and Freda Chapman.
As a member of the light microscopy facility, Jon Howe has been instrumental in the contributions that the facility has made to research at the LMB. Beyond his scientific impact, Jon’s outreach brings the LMB mentality of discovery to the broader community. For example, he designed cases that allowed our successful Microscopes 4 Schools programme to be shipped to schools across the country. This innovation overcame pandemic limitations and allowed us to reach underprivileged communities outside our normal sphere.
Carolyn Karam, a facility manager in the LMB’s Biological Services Group, has worked tirelessly over the last three years to ensure her staff and the wider team have been supported through difficult times. During lockdown Carolyn’s leadership shone and her caring approach got the team through the very difficult jobs they had to do to preserve the service. Carolyn’s dedication to supporting staff has benefited many careers, and her commitment to the LMB has been a shining example for others to follow.
Sew Peak-Chew, a member of our Mass Spectrometry Facility, has contributed to a large number of proteomic discovery projects. Because she goes above and beyond to help develop methods tailored to specific questions, the data she generates is of such quality that her work often provides direct answers to complex biological questions.
Freda Chapman works in Domestic Services and is a recognisable figure at the LMB, known lab-wide for her decorated trolley and her frequent fundraising events, particularly for Marie Curie. Not only does Freda do an excellent job for us, she personifies what is best about the LMB. She is a very generous and warm person who always greets everyone with a smile and goes out of her way to care for people. Freda makes a very important contribution to life and culture at the LMB.