(l to r) Yoh Isogai, Matt Meselson, Julie Lefebvre, Ezgi Hacisuleyman, and Dimitar Kostadinov
Julie Lefebvre, Dimitar Kostadinov, Yoh Isogai and Ezgi Hacisuleyman were honored for outstanding research achievements at the Department’s annual Woods Hole retreat in October.
The Peralta Prize was awarded to Hacisuleyman, a third-year grad student in the laboratory of John Rinn. Two Meselson prizes were given – one to post-doc Lefebvre and graduate student Kostadinov of Joshua Sanes’ group for a joint project, and the other to post-doc Isogai, in MCB Chair Catherine Dulac’s laboratory.
The Peralta Prize is awarded annually to an MCB graduate student entering the third year of study. Named for the late MCB Prof. Ernest Peralta, it recognizes the most outstanding dissertation proposal submitted by a second-year graduate student.
“It was an extreme honor to be selected for this prize from a great class of bright people. I am lucky to have people who supported me during stressful times” Hacisuleyman said.
A reviewer supporting Hacisuleyman for the prize wrote, “I would place Ezgi in the top 0.01% of the scholars I have met in my years at Yale, Stanford, Harvard and MIT. Her trajectory is simply prodigious.”
Hacisuleyman’s research involves dissecting the role and mechanism of a long, non-coding RNA (lncRNA) called RAP1- which she discovered – in the formation of adipose cells from a precursor. Her hypothesis is that RAP1 serves as a scaffold to bring together two proteins to form an RNA-protein complex.
The nominator said that her thesis is “not only heroic in diversity of approaches, but is seminal and timely to the field as a whole.”
Another reviewer said, “Ezgi is amongst the small group of exceptional graduate students with a promising future in the field of genetic research.”
The Meselson Prize, first given in 2008, commemorates the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking 1958 experiment by MCB Professor Matthew Meselson and Franklin Stahl – at the time a Caltech grad student and post-doc, respectively. This experiment proved that DNA replication occurs when each strand copies itself to produce two identical daughter strands. The Meselson-Stahl work has been called “the most beautiful experiment in biology.” The Meselson Prize for “the most beautiful experiment of the year” is awarded to an MCB graduate student or team.
Lefebvre and Kostadinov jointly carried out their “most beautiful” experiments in the laboratory of Joshua Sanes. In a study published in Nature, they showed that a 22-gene cluster encoding 22 related transmembrane molecules called gamma-protocadherins provide a molecular basis for dendrite self-avoidance and self/nonself discrimination in neurons that enables their proper spatial development.
One review noted: “Julie and Dim designed and performed conceptually elegant experiments that provided important insights into neuronal development mechanism, and their results are not only elegant, but also beautiful themselves” – referring to images of labeled neurons he called “striking and exquisite.”
“I am honored to share the Meselson award for the Most Beautiful experiment.” Lefebvre said. “The award recognizes our fortitude in tackling a complex problem of neural organization, and makes an enduring link between my postdoctoral training and the MCB department. Importantly, it will serve as a reminder to turn to the principle of simplicity in future experiments.”
Her partner, Kostadinov, said, “I am humbled to receive this award for work done with Julie Lefebvre and Josh Sanes. In our profession, there is no greater feeling than being recognized by your peers for doing good science, so this is a real honor.”
Isogai, winner of the second Meselson Prize, works in the lab of MCB Chair Catherine Dulac. His award was based on experiments, published in Nature, that have contributed to deciphering the logic of the mouse pheromone system. A letter nominating Isogai said that he “possesses the drive and critical mind necessary to pursue scientific goals at the highest level.”
“The Meselson Prize is a great honor for me,” said Isogai. “I will use this award to present my work at a conference.”
It was previously found that the vomeronasal organ of the mouse contains almost 300 receptors, some of which distinguish between male and female mice or interpret cues from other species to identify potential predators. Isogai devised a method to interrogate individual receptors, and was able to identify the functions of almost 90 receptors. Among them were receptors responding specifically to male versus female or predator versus non-predator cues – including mammalian and snake species – and others that detect steroids related to stress and estrous cycle.