Weizmann professor among 7 Wolf Prize laureates

‘Israel’s Nobel’ honors academics who contribute to scientific research, artistic practice.

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January 14, 2016 05:50
4 minute read.
wolf prize israel

Wolf Prize laureates Prof. Trudy Frances Charlene Mackay (R) and Lewis Cantley, from Weill Cornell Medical College. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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Seven winners of the Wolf Prize – considered “Israel’s Nobel Prize” – were announced on Wednesday evening at an event attended by Education Minister, Wolf Foundation chairman Naftali Bennett and Prof. Dan Shechtman, vice chairman of the foundation and Wolf Prize winner himself.

The awards, worth $100,000 in each field ($500,000 in total), will be divided this year between seven winners from three countries – Israel, the US and Canada. The prize will be presented to the winners at the Knesset by President Reuven Rivlin. A significant number of the awards this year will be given to women.

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The Wolf Prize in Agriculture will be granted to Prof. Trudy Frances Charlene Mackay, from the department of biological sciences at North Carolina State University, for pioneering studies on the genetic architecture of complex traits and the discovery of fundamental principles of quantitative genetics with broad applications for agricultural improvements.

“It is now well recognized that the majority of traits of economic importance in animal and plant breeding and traits related to most human diseases as well are influenced by a large number of genes acting in complex regulatory networks,” said the judges’ panel.

“Trudy Mackay was among the first to realize this, and throughout her career has used quantitative genetics to provide fundamental insight in the complex interplay between genes acting on complex traits as well as in understanding the interaction with the environment. Moreover, she was among the first to realize that the rapid developments in genomics allowed the integration of quantitative genetics with molecular details of genes interacting within complex regulatory networks.”

The Wolf Prize in Chemistry will be shared by two laureates.

Prof. Kyriacos Nicolaou from the chemistry department at Rice University in Houston will receive his for advancing the field of chemical synthesis to the extremes of molecular complexity, linking structure and function and expanding our dominion over the interface of chemistry, biology and medicine. He propelled natural product synthesis into the modern era, and is undoubtedly the world leader of the present generation in the field of total synthesis and biological activity. He has shown, like nobody else, how to strategically disconnect complex molecules into fragments leading to realizable chemical pathways.

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This strategy represents a conceptual leap that has been emulated by many others and has broken a “glass ceiling” in the art of synthesis,” the judges said.

The second chemistry laureate is Prof. Stuart Schreiber, from the chemistry and chemical biology department at Harvard University. He will receive the prize for pioneering chemical insights into the logic of signal transduction and gene regulation that led to important, new therapeutics and for advancing chemical biology and medicine through the discovery of small-molecule probes. He was cited for contributions to chemistry that are “of a once-in-a-generation magnitude.” He elucidated biological pathways using small molecules, which has led to major discoveries in understanding the biology of nutrient sensing and immunosuppression.

This includes the discovery of the protein kinase mTOR, which regulates cell proliferation, cell survival, transcription and translation.

His discoveries “dramatically advanced the understanding of the role that these pathways play in human diseases.”

The Wolf Prize in Physics will be granted to Prof. Yoseph Imry from Rehovot’s Chaim Weizmann Institute of Science, for pioneering studies of the physics of mesoscopic and random systems. He is the primary founding father of mesoscopic physics – the study of systems that are much smaller than everyday (macroscopic) objects, but significantly larger than atoms. Imry originated and led the development of the principal concepts of this discipline, which is the foundation of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

The Wolf Prize in Medicine will be shared by two laureates – Prof. C. Ronald Kahn from Harvard Medical School, for pioneering studies defining insulin signaling and its alterations in disease, and Prof.

Lewis Cantley, from Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, for discovery of phosphoinositide- 3 kinases and their roles in physiology and disease.

Kahn’s work has been a key to elucidating the pathogenesis of type II diabetes. His observation that the insulin receptor transmits insulin signals through activation of an intrinsic protein tyrosine kinase was the first step in unraveling the insulin signaling cascade. These studies formed that basis of our present detailed understanding of the pathogenesis of insulin resistance, and in contemporaneous clinical studies, Kahn showed that insulin resistance precedes and leads to type II diabetes.

Cantley is widely recognized for his seminal contributions to understanding growth factor signaling, cellular metabolism, and tumor formation.

Indeed, genetic aberrations in this pathway are among the most common event in human cancer.

The Wolf Prize in Arts will be granted this year to architect Phyllis Lambert of Canada, for being vigorously involved in the realization of seminal innovative buildings, exemplary urban regeneration projects and leading research institutes.

Lambert was described as embodying “the vicissitudes of the culture of architecture over six decades. Playing all possible roles of designer, planner, artist, writer, photographer, curator, museum director, patron and philanthropist, she ultimately stands for professional rigor and aesthetic elegance, but also for intellectual doubt and political critic. From the mid-1950s to the present, she has been vigorously involved in the realization of seminal innovative buildings, exemplary urban preservation and regeneration projects and leading architectural research institutes.”

Dr. Liat Ben David, CEO of the Wolf Foundation noted: “The award laureates selected have a significant impact in the fields of scientific research and artistic practice and are endowed with exceptional talent. Each and every one of them is a beacon of excellence in their field.”

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