2020 Günter Blobel Early Career Award goes to James Olzmann

James Olzmann

James Olzmann, an associate professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and investigator at the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, will give a talk on the challenging scientific frontier of “Lipid Droplet Proteome Dynamics and Regulation” at Cell Bio Virtual 2020 as this year’s winner of the Günter Blobel Early Career Award, previously the Early Career Life Scientist Award.

For much of his career, Olzmann studied aspects of protein quality control. But it was after he discovered a connection between endoplasmic reticulum protein quality control and lipid droplets while doing his postdoc in biology at Stanford University that he was “hooked” and ever since has remained fascinated by the biology of lipid droplets and the mechanisms cells employ to maintain cellular lipid homeostasis.

In his letter of support, Stanford professor Ron Kopito wrote that “James’s lab has defined new pathways that regulate lipotoxic cell death in cancer,” advancing scientific understanding of the fundamental mechanisms that regulate the composition of lipid droplet proteomes. “Beyond his research, James is also a leader in promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in STEM,” Kopito wrote.

“Recently, we made an exciting discovery of a system that regenerates reduced Coenzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) outside of the mitochondria, providing a potent lipophilic antioxidant that suppresses oxidative lipid damage and ferroptosis,” Olzmann says. “For me, one of the best parts about running a lab is sharing the joy of discovery with the wonderful students and trainees in my lab.”

A University of Michigan biology undergrad, Olzmann’s deeper enthusiasm for biology began when he was a neuroscience graduate student at Emory University and received a travel award to attend the ASCB annual meeting. “This was a formative experience that opened my eyes to the breadth and wonder of cell biology,” he says. “ASCB has always felt like home,” so “to receive this recognition from ASCB and the cell biology community is a true honor.”

A member of the ASCB Minorities Affairs Committee, Olzmann says, “Just as in our research, we must be creative and innovative in our approaches to improve DEI in STEM and beyond.” The death of George Floyd and many other recent atrocities have galvanized “a call to action for us all to participate in change at all levels.”

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Thea Clarke is Director of Communications, Education Committee Liaison, and LSE Journal Production Manager at the American Society for Cell Biology.