Joan Argetsinger Steitz, the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry/HHMI at Yale School of Medicine today received the 2018 Lasker-Koshland Award for Special Achievement in Medical Science. Steitz was recognized for her leadership in biomedical science, pioneering discoveries in RNA biology, and decades of mentorship to young women in science.
Steitz is a longtime member of ASCB and a previous recipient of the Society’s E.B. Wilson Medal (2005), the Gairdner International Award (2006), and was named a member of the UK’s Royal Society in 2014.
She is renowned for her research in the area of RNA biology. During her postdoctoral career in the early 1960s at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK, she worked with Francis Crick, Sydney Brenner, and Mark Bretscher on a project that discovered how the ribosome knows where to attach to specific sections of the mRNA. Later, when she was appointed to the faculty at Yale and started her own laboratory, she switched her research from bacterial models to mammalian cells. This led her to the discovery of and a landmark paper on snRNPs (snurps), the particles that splice sections of mRNA into smaller pieces for the ribosome to read.
In addition to her research prowess, Steitz is a champion for women and underrepresented groups in science. The Lasker Foundation reports that “in 2005, Steitz was invited to join a U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee that was exploring how to maximize the potential of women in academic science and engineering. The resulting 2007 report, Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering, defines the problems women face, articulates their causes, and presents strategies for remediation.”
Steitz has mentored 200 aspiring young scientists (so far) over her career. ASCB applauds her leadership and inspiring passion for promoting diversity and the advancement of women in the scientific endeavor.