Public Release:  Mass. General researcher Gary Ruvkun a co-recipient of 2014 Wolf Prize

Prestigious award honors discovery of tiny regulatory RNAs

Massachusetts General Hospital

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigator Gary Ruvkun, PhD, has been named a co-recipient of the 2014 Wolf Prize in Medicine, along with Victor Ambros, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and Nahum Sonenberg, PhD of McGill University. Ruvkun and Ambros are being honored for discovering that tiny molecules of RNA,control the activity of other genes that encode proteins in animals - work previously recognized with the 2008 Lasker Award - while Sonenberg's award recognizes his discovery of proteins that regulate protein synthesis.

Presented by the Wolf Foundation of Israel since 1978, Wolf Prizes are awarded in agriculture, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and the arts. Winners in each category share a $100,000 prize award, and around one-third of the recipients in chemistry, mathematics, and physics have gone on to receive the Nobel Prize. The announcement of the 2014 awards was made in Tel Aviv on Jan. 16, and the awards will be presented by Israeli president Shimon Peres at a ceremony in May.

Ruvkun and Ambros began working together as Massachusetts Institute of Technology research fellows in the 1980s. In discoveries made both collaboratively and independently in their labs at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, they identified the role of single-stranded microRNAs, the smallest known genes, in regulating gene expression. Instead of being translated into proteins, microRNAs block gene expression by binding to regulatory segments in their target messenger RNAs. Since the initial discoveries, it has become apparent that most animal and plant genomes, including the human genome, contain between 500 and 1,000 microRNAs, which control an even greater number of protein-coding messenger RNAs and may be involved in a broad range of normal and disease-related activities

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Ruvkun is a professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and an investigator at the MGH Department of Molecular Biology and Center for Computational and Integrative Biology. He holds a bachelor's degree in Biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley and a PhD in Biophysics from Harvard University. A member of the National Academy of Sciences, Ruvkun is also a principal investigator with the Search for Extraterrestrial Genomes, which has proposed using DNA amplification techniques, commonly used to detect and classify organisms here on earth, as part of the search for life on Mars or other planets.

Massachusetts General Hospital, founded in 1811, is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School. The MGH conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, with an annual research budget of more than $775 million and major research centers in AIDS, cardiovascular research, cancer, computational and integrative biology, cutaneous biology, human genetics, medical imaging, neurodegenerative disorders, regenerative medicine, reproductive biology, systems biology, transplantation biology and photomedicine.

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