His parents were both physicians, and Jiaxi Wu says that, while they inspired him to learn more about disease, in the end, he decided to pursue a career not in clinical medicine but in biomedical research. So far, Wu is off to a flying start. He graduated first in his class in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in biology from the China Agricultural University in Beijing. A year later, he joined a PhD program in molecular biology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the lab of Zhijian Chen. There, over three years, Wu discovered two novel innate immunity molecules, which led to his winning ASCB’s $1,000 Kaluza Prize supported by Beckman Coulter.

“The question I’m interested in is how pathogens are attacked by a host,” Wu said. He mastered the technique of mass spectrometry in order to discover a novel cyclic dinucleotide (cyclic-GMP-AMP), which functions as a second messenger in the DNA sensing pathway that protects cells from pathogens. Wu also identified the cytosolic DNA sensor (cyclic GMP-AMP synthase) that induces type-I interferons, which trigger an immune response.

Wu has published these tremendous discoveries and more in nine papers, five as first author, all of which came from less than three years of research. Two of Wu’s papers were recommended in F1000, one of which was also named “2013: Signaling Breakthroughs of the Year” by Science Signaling. “I work very hard and very late,” Wu said. But when he does find free time he doesn’t stop experimenting. Wu likes to try different chemical reactions in the kitchen through cooking.

In addition to the Kaluza Prize, Wu has won numerous awards, including the 2014 Nominata Award, the 2014 Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award, the 2013 Chinese Government Award for Outstanding Students Abroad, and the 2013 ASCB Beckman Coulter Distinguished Graduate Student Achievement Prize .

Now Wu is preparing to defend his thesis and has started looking for postdoc positions. “I want to study the interface between host and pathogens,” Wu said. “I want to move into the in vivo aspects.”

Along with the other 9 Kaluza winners and finalists, Wu will be recognized in Philadephia at the ASCB/IFCB joint meeting with a special presentation just before the Keith R. Porter Lecture on Sunday, December 7 at 6:45 pm. Each Kaluza finalist will also give a talk at the new Kaluza Minisymposium on Monday, December 8 from 4:00 pm–6:25 pm.

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Christina Szalinski

Christina Szalinski is a science writer for the American Society for Cell Biology. She earned her Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Molecular Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh. email: cszalinski@ascb.org

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