Inaugural Porter Prizes for Research Excellence

ASCB has named the winners of the inaugural Porter Prizes for Research Excellence. The $4,000 prize for outstanding postdoctoral research will go to Melanie White, a research fellow at Institute of Molecular & Cell Biology (IMCB) A*STAR, Singapore. A $2,000 award for outstanding predoctoral research goes to Andrew Moore oaf the University of Pennsylvania (UPenn). White and Moore were chosen because they exemplify the pioneering spirit and contributions to cell biology of one of ASCB’s founders, Keith R. Porter. Both will receive their awards at the 2018 ASCB|EMBO Meeting in San Diego and have been invited to present talks at Minisymposia. They will also dine with the 2018 Porter Lecturer and receive up to $1,000 of their travel costs covered.

Melanie White

White uses quantitative live imaging to study how molecular processes affect cellular structure and function to direct early mammalian development. Her work revealed the first mechanism explaining how the early mammalian embryo compacts. Her mentor and senior PI at IMCB, Nicolas Plachta, describes White as “a tremendous scientist and exactly the sort of biologist whose contributions merit recognition by this prestigious honor.”

Following White’s PhD at University College London and a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh where she studied the molecular and cell biology of the nervous system, she gained expertise in generating viruses to alter gene expression and neuronal activity in the brain for both investigative and therapeutic purposes.

Using a multidisciplinary approach in her work, White has leveraged the skills of colleagues from different disciplines to maintain a high level of productivity and quality of research. Plachta explained that after White joined his lab in 2016, she “mastered advanced imaging technologies, developed an impressive number of new molecular tools to follow the dynamics of cells in living mouse embryos, learned quantitative methods for image analysis, and established intensive and truly cross-disciplinary collaborations with multiple laboratories worldwide. This is all despite taking maternity leave for two children during this time…. In the two short years that Melanie has been in Singapore, she has also contributed heavily to another postdoc’s project examining microtubule dynamics in the embryo….”

White will present her latest work in the Patterning and Tissue Morphogenesus Minisymposium on Monday, December 10, at 5:05 pm.

Andrew Moore

Moore states that his overarching research goal was to develop a “deeper understanding of how cells regulate the structure and function of mitochondrial networks through selective mitophagy and dynamic fission and fusion.” As an undergraduate at Haverford College, Moore was named an HHMI interdisciplinary scholar, which came with a research grant. There, he sharpened his live-cell imaging expertise studying morphogenesis in Drosophila in the lab of Rachel Hoang.

Later, the graduate training model at UPenn allowed him to rotate through several laboratories. In the lab of Robert Kalb, he studied mitochondrial health and metabolism in tissue derived from patients with familial amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In Kacy Cullen’s lab, he investigated mitochondrial dynamics in reactive astrocytes after acute brain injury in swine. In 2014 he joined Erika Holzbaur’s lab where he said, “I chose to combine my interests in mitochondrial biology with the lab’s strong background in live-cell imaging and autophagy research.”

Moore’s work showed how two ALS-associated proteins, optineurin and its kinase TBK1, are required for selective mitophagy. In his thesis work, he looked at how the actin cytoskeleton also plays important roles in mitochondria network inheritance in somatic cells.

Moore gained the distinction at UPenn as a live imaging wizard. “Andy is an authority on live imaging and super-resolution microscopy,” said Holzbaur. She notes that he has been invited to present talks at multiple meetings and graduated with a number of publications, including three first-author primary research publications and an invited review.

Since graduation, Moore did his postdoc with Jennifer Lippincott-Schwarz at HHMI’s Janelia Research Campus and has now become an independent researcher there.

Moore will present his work in the Cell Size, Cell Division, and Contractility Minisymposium on Tuesday, December 11, at 5:35 pm.

The selection committee commends the outstanding research of graduate student applicants Ananpurna Vemu, Jared Bard, Tyler Allen, and Victoria Denecker and postdoc applicants Peter Ly, Samantha Lewis, and Takashi Akera.

About the Author:

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Strategic Communications Manager.