Wolf Prize Laureate in Medicine 2021
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Yale University, USA
“for ground-breaking discoveries on RNA processing and its function”.
“for fundamental discoveries in RNA biology that have the potential to better human lives. They have made ground-breaking discoveries in RNA regulatory mechanisms demonstrating that RNA is not a passive template between DNA and protein, but rather plays a dominant role in regulating and diversifying gene expression”.
Joan Steitz is a Sterling Professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale University and Investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Our DNA carries the instructions to manufacture all the proteins needed by a cell. After each gene is copied from DNA into RNA, the RNA message is “spliced” – a process involving precise cutting and pasting. Steitz has studied RNA since the 1960s and was the first to describe the translation initiation sites of prokaryotic RNA in 1969. She turned her attention to eukaryotic cells, focusing on why eukaryotic cells produce an excess of RNA in the nucleus that is not found in cytoplasm in the form of mRNA. Steitz demonstrated that ribosomes use complementary base pairing to start translating mRNA. She discovered snRNPs )small nuclear ribonucleoproteins(- small non-coding RNAs that are crucial for splicing of mRNA. Teaching and mentoring young scientists and advocating for women in science has also been a hallmark of Steitz’s career.
Joan Steitz is awarded the Wolf Prize for her many fundamental contributions to the field of RNA biology. In particular, she discovered the critical roles of small non-coding RNAs in the splicing of pre-mRNAs and the biogenesis of ribosomal RNA, and elucidated biochemical mechanisms that regulate RNA stability in eukaryotic cells. Her pioneering discoveries have laid the foundations to much of the subsequent research on RNA splicing.