Mihaela Serpe of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been selected by the ASCB Women in Cell Biology Committee (WICB) to receive the WICB Junior Award for Excellence in Research. Amy S. Gladfelter of Dartmouth College will receive the WICB Mid-Career Award for Excellence in Research. Angelika Amon of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was named recipient of the 2015 Sandra K. Masur Senior Leadership Award.
Mihaela (Ela) Serpe, Principal Investigator and Head of the Unit of Cellular Communication at NICHD, is the 2015 winner of the WICB Junior Award for Excellence in Research, which is awarded to a woman in an early stage of her career (within seven years in an independent position) who is making exceptional scientific contributions to cell biology, is developing a strong independent research program, and exhibits the potential for continuing at a high level of scientific endeavor and leadership.
Serpe received her undergraduate and master’s education at the University of Bucharest and then worked at the Institute of Cellular Biology and Pathology in Bucharest, where she focused on lipoprotein and atherogenesis and the role of oxidative stress. She earned
her PhD at the University of Buffalo in the laboratory of Dan Kosman. As a graduate student, Serpe studied how simple eukaryotic cells—budding yeast—probe and respond to changes in their environment, in particular to iron and copper levels. During these years, she became fascinated by cellular signaling and embarked on a quest to understand molecular mechanisms of cell–cell communication. As a postdoc with Mike O’Connor at the University of Minnesota, she utilized Drosophila to study how cells reproducibly and selectively interpret information within a complex developing field. She made several significant contributions to understanding molecular mechanisms that apply to a diverse range of developmental processes in Drosophila.
She also investigated the assembly and organization of chemical synapses using the Drosophila neuromuscular junction (NMJ), a specialized cell–cell interaction zone, as a model system.
In her own lab at the NICHD, Serpe made the completely unexpected discovery that a novel, essential protein, Drosophila Neto, is absolutely required for clustering of the NMJ ionotropic glutamate receptor (iGluR) complexes at synaptic sites. Neto belongs to a family of highly conserved auxiliary proteins that regulate glutamatergic synapses, the major excitatory synapses in our brain. Her work utilized an impressive combination of genetics, cell biology, and electrophysiology tools. These findings provide an entry point to understand the molecular mechanism of synapse development and are expected to be “enormously influential within the field of development neurobiology for years to come,” according to her nominator Alan Hinnebusch.
Furthermore, her lab discovered that Neto is implicated in a noncanonical bone morphogenetic protein (BMP) signaling pathway, which is genetically distinguishable from any other known BMP signaling cascades. This novel BMP pathway acts locally at the fly NMJ and influences synapse formation and maturation in an activity-dependent manner. Thus, BMPs may monitor synapse activity and coordinate it with synapse growth and maturation, an unprecedented role for BMPs in regulating cellular junctions.
Serpe’s nominators have described her as a wonderful colleague whose enthusiasm and energy are infectious. She is “an emerging leader in the field of synaptic biology,” which is especially impressive because she entered that field after establishing her independent laboratory. In a short time, Serpe’s work has made significant contributions to understanding synapse assembly and development and characterized novel molecules and critical mechanisms for iGluR assembly, surface delivery, trafficking, clustering, and functioning at the synapses.
Serpe’s outstanding scientific contributions have been recognized by her colleagues, as demonstrated by invitations to speak at numerous conferences and to organize an important national meeting (55th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in 2014).
In addition to her scientific contributions, she mentors students, post-baccalaureate fellows, and postdoctoral fellows. Serpe has also demonstrated a commitment to service as the head of the NIH Drosophila Neuroscience Interest Group, and by initiating the annual Howard Nash Poster Day, which fosters ties to the broader Drosophila community in the Maryland area.
Amy S. Gladfelter
Amy S. Gladfelter, Associate Professor, Biological Sciences, Dartmouth College, was named the winner of the 2015 WICB Mid- Career Award for Excellence in Research. This award is presented to a woman at the mid- career level (7–15 years in an independent position) who has made exceptional scientific contributions to cell biology and/or has effectively translated cell biology across disciplines, and who exemplifies a high level of scientific endeavor and leadership.
Gladfelter has made exceptional contributions to two areas of cell biology, cell- cycle control and the septin cytoskeleton. She made an important discovery that nuclei sharing a common cytoplasm can go through the cell cycle asynchronously and independently. This was an unexpected finding that challenged many previous assumptions. The septin cytoskeleton, recently recognized as the fourth component of the cytoskeleton, plays a role in cell migration, cell morphology, and cytokinesis. Gladfelter’s lab has made important advances in investigating how septin filaments assemble and how they are organized into structures.
Gladfelter grew up in the countryside outside of Orlando, FL, immersed in the natural world of lakes, snakes, oak hammocks, and sunshine. This environment fed a deep curiosity about and passion for the natural world, and when not swimming or climbing trees Gladfelter studied dance very seriously. At Princeton University, she studied molecular biology and augmented her education with summer experiences in bench research with Simon Lewis at the University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston, with Toby Bradshaw at the University of Washington, and finally at Princeton, in Bonnie Bassler’s lab where Gladfelter studied bioluminescence in marine bacteria in the early days of quorum sensing.
Drawn to the strong microbial and fungal genetics program at Duke University’s graduate school, she began working with budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae in Danny Lew’s lab. Her thesis work focused on understanding how cells polarize and on Cdc42 signaling. By analyzing a variety of Cdc42 mutants, she found a subset with defects in assembly of septin proteins. That work began an interest in this understudied aspect of the cytoskeleton that continues to this day in her own lab. During her postdoc with Peter Philippsen at the Biozentrum (Basel, Switzerland), she began studying the problem of how nuclei sharing a common cytoplasm can divide autonomously, a problem that seeded the projects in her independent group at Dartmouth.
Her lab has focused on understanding how cytosol is compartmentalized, and she has revisited her old passion for the septin cytoskeleton. Gladfelter has made important contributions to the understanding of the dynamics of septins. Much of the work in the lab takes advantage of different fungal model systems, including budding and fission yeast, Neurospora crassa, as well as Ashbya, but recently the lab has begun work on several mammalian multinucleated cells, including muscle. Gladfelter made the unexpected and surprising discovery that in Ashbya different nuclei sharing a common cytoplasm go through the cell cycle asynchronously and independently. She also discovered that cell cycle regulators are not freely mixed in the cytoplasm as previously thought.
Gladfelter has steered her research group into quantitative cell biology and biophysics through collaborations with modelers, biophysicists, and microscopy developers. In particular, her research has been enriched by close work with Tomomi Tani and Rudolf Oldenbourg at the Marine Biological Lab in Woods Hole, where she and her family spend the summer. She began her lab at Dartmouth in January 2006, shortly after the birth of her son. (Her daughter was born two years later.) Gladfelter says that she couldn’t do any of this without the devotion and support of her husband, Mark Borsuk, a professor in the engineering school at Dartmouth.
Danny Lew wrote that Gladfelter is “a high- caliber quantitative cell biologist with a gift for identifying fascinating problems in biology.” She is the chair of the 2016 Gordon Research Conference on Molecular and Cellular Fungal Biology and also serves on the editorial board or as a reviewer for several journals. Gladfelter teaches a full load of courses at Dartmouth and mentors undergraduate and graduate students and postdocs in her lab. Her mentoring was recognized with the Graduate Faculty Mentoring Award from Dartmouth in 2014. Gladfelter has been described by her nominators as “an exceptional and visible role model for students and postdocs,” having achieved tremendous career success while also raising a family.
The Sandra K. Masur Senior Leadership Award is presented to a woman or man at a later career stage (generally full professor or equivalent) whose outstanding scientific achievements are coupled with a record of active leadership in mentoring both men and women in scientific careers.
Angelika Amon is a leader in cell biology and exemplifies the criteria of the award. She studies the molecular mechanisms that prevent chromosome mis-segregation during mitosis and meiosis. Her work on meiosis has yielded critical insights into how the process of cell division is altered to bring about this specialized cell division. Amon also studies how gamete formation facilitates the resetting of life span from one generation to the next, an avenue of research that may provide insights into the mechanisms of aging and longevity.
Amon not only studies cell division, she also strives to understand the consequences of chromosome mis-segregation, a condition known as aneuploidy. Amon has pioneered this research area. Her studies showed that “aneuploidy-associated stresses” on cells lead to an increased need for energy and interfere with proliferation of those cells. Because aneuploidy is a hallmark of cancer, Amon strives to translate her research on the effects of aneuploidy into new medicines by developing therapeutics for cancer.
Amon obtained her PhD in 1994 from the University of Vienna for her work on the molecular mechanisms governing cell cycle progression in budding yeast. She then joined the laboratory of Ruth Lehmann at the Whitehead Institute as a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow to investigate germ cell formation in Drosophila. In 1996, Amon accepted a Whitehead Fellow position to study the mechanisms governing chromosome segregation and exit from mitosis. In 1999 she joined the faculty of the Department of Biology and the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, where she now holds the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Chair of Cancer Research. Since 2000 she has been an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
According to her nominator, Elaine Fuchs, “Amon has shown consistently and brilliantly a remarkable ability to start new research areas, and to make paradigm-shifting discoveries.” Her nominators have described her research career as “dazzling” and “groundbreaking,” and have described her as “a leader in her field.” In recognition of her contributions toward our understanding of the cause and consequences of aneuploidy Amon has received numerous awards, including the 1999 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the 2003 Alan T. Waterman Award, the 2003 Eli Lilly and Company Research Award, the 2007 American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Amgen Prize, the 2007 Paul Marks Prize, the 2008 National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology, and the 2013 Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine. In 2010 Amon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and she was named a Foreign Associate of the European Molecular Biology Organization in 2015. In 2014 Amon won the Genetics Society of America Medal.
In addition to Amon’s outstanding scientific achievements, she has been an exceptional mentor and role model to many in both the classroom and the laboratory. For several years she taught cell biology and currently teaches introductory biology to undergraduate students and genetics to graduate students. She runs a large laboratory with several graduate students and postdocs, and many of her trainees have successfully transitioned to independent positions at globally recognized research institutions. A number of Amon’s trainees have attested to her inspiring mentorship. One former trainee, Adel Marston, said “Amon is an exemplary role model….In particular, by example and encouragement she demonstrated that a family and an academic career are compatible.” One colleague said that “Amon is renowned as an inspirational advisor whose enthusiasm and drive quickly infect her students and postdoctoral fellows.”
—Desirée L. Salazar, Scientific Program Manager, and Sandra K. Masur, Chair, Women in Cell Biology Committee