Horwitz Prize Awarded for the Discovery of Bacterial Cell Structure

Columbia to Award the 2012 Horwitz Prize to Richard Losick, Joe Lutkenhaus, and Lucy Shapiro for Discovering the Intracellular Structure of Bacterial Cells

NEW YORK (September 24, 2012) – Columbia University will award the 2012 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize to Richard Losick, PhD, Joe Lutkenhaus, PhD, and Lucy Shapiro, PhD, for their collective work on the intricate, dynamic, three-dimensional organization of bacterial cells. Prior to their discoveries, the tiny bacterial cell was thought to be a “bag of enzymes” that held a jumbled mess of proteins and DNA within a “cell sap.” Established in 1967, the Horwitz Prize is Columbia University’s top honor for achievement in biological and biochemistry research.

The Horwitz Prize is widely considered to be a precursor to a Nobel. Of the 87 Horwitz Prize winners to date, 42 have gone on to receive Nobel prizes. To see a list of previous awardees, please click here.

“We congratulate Drs. Losick, Lutkenhaus, and Shapiro on their important work that has expanded understanding of the life of a cell and are pleased to award them our 2012 Horwitz Prize,” said Lee Goldman, MD, dean of the faculties of health sciences and medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and executive vice president for health and biomedical sciences at Columbia University. “In this 45th year since the prize was established, these awardees join an elite group of scientists who have contributed greatly to the basic science that is the foundation of efforts to better understand diseases, develop new treatments, and improve the lives of patients.”

“The research of these three superb pioneers has led to major insights into the biochemistry and molecular biology of the living cell. It has helped establish the simple bacterial cell as one of the most powerful models for understanding the cycle of cell life and death,” said Gerard Karsenty, MD, PhD, chair of the Horwitz Prize Committee, and chair of the Department of Genetics and Development at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Joe Lutkenhaus began studying the genetics of bacterial cell division in the model organism E. coli, which led to his discovery of a gene, FtsZ, which is essential for cell division. He showed that FtsZ is rate limiting for cell division and is the target of various cell division inhibitors. In a seminal Nature paper (Bi and Lutkenhaus, 1991), the localization of FtsZ is described as a ring at the future division site. This was the first demonstration in bacteria of an intracellular protein localized at a specific cellular location for a specific purpose. It also led to the discovery that bacteria contained cytoskeletal proteins, once the provenance of eukaryotic cells.

Shortly after, Drs. Shapiro and Losick published their first collaboration in Cell (1993), on the development and behavior of bacteria. Over the years, they have collaborated on eight original papers on the structure and biology of the bacterial cell, which have been published in leading peer-reviewed journals and have been influential.

Dr. Shapiro is credited with addressing the question of how one-dimensional DNA can encode and be translated into a complex three-dimensional organism. She showed, for the first time, that bacterial DNA replication occurs in a spatially organized way and that cell division depends on this spatial organization and on segregation of the DNA to opposite ends of the cell. She also showed that the cell cycle requires the precise coordination and timing of multiple biochemical and morphological events, each of which occurs at a specific stage in the cell cycle and requires the expression and function of a discrete set of genes.

In complementary work, Dr. Losick revealed the nature of three-dimensional regulation in bacterial cells, which provided a basis for understanding the properties of cellular asymmetry. He also dissected the gene regulatory mechanisms that govern systems for cellular differentiation. In addition, he discovered the interplay of spatial dynamics and regulatory mechanisms that yields morphologically differentiated cells with different cell fates.

“The contributions these three scientists have made to the fields of cell biology and microbiology make them excellent choices for the 2012 Horwitz Prize. Their visionary work has yielded novel and fundamental insights into the biochemistry and molecular biology of the living cell,” said Michael Purdy, PhD, executive vice president for research, Columbia University. “In addition, letters supporting these scientists have noted their dedication to the students they have trained over the years. We are proud to honor scientists who embody a core value of Columbia University—the training of future generations of researchers and scientists.”

Awardee Biographies

Richard Losick, PhD, is the Maria Moors Cabot Professor of Biology, a Harvard College professor, and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Professor in the faculty of Arts & Sciences at Harvard University. He received his AB in chemistry from Princeton University and his PhD from MIT. Dr. Losick is a past chairman of the Departments of Cellular and Developmental Biology and Molecular and Cellular Biology. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the American Philosophical Society, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. He is a recipient of the Camille and Henry Dreyfus Teacher-Scholar Award, the Selman A. Waksman Award of the National Academy of Sciences, and the Canada International Gairdner Award.

Joe Lutkenhaus, PhD, is a University Distinguished Professor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine. He received a BSc in organic chemistry from Iowa State University and a PhD in biochemistry from UCLA. Interested in seeing more of the world, he pursued postdoctoral studies on bacterial cell division with William Donachie at Edinburgh University. He did further postdoctoral studies at the University of Connecticut Health Science Center before joining the faculty of the University of Kansas Medical Center. Dr. Lutkenhaus became a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2002.

Lucy Shapiro, PhD, holds the Virginia and D. K. Ludwig Chair in Cancer Research in the Department of Developmental Biology at Stanford University School of Medicine, where she is also the director of the Beckman Center for Molecular and Genetic Medicine. She is a graduate of Brooklyn College and received her PhD in molecular biology from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. She is a member of the board of advisors of the Pasteur Institute and of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research and a member of the board of directors of Pacific Biosciences Inc. Dr. Shapiro founded the anti-infectives discovery company Anacor Pharmaceuticals and is a member of the Anacor board of directors. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Microbiology, and the American Philosophical Society. She has been awarded the FASEB Excellence in Science Award, the Selman Waksman Award from the National Academy of Sciences, the Canadian International Gairdner Award, the John Scott Award jointly with Harley McAdams, and the 2010 Abbott Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize was established under the will of the late S. Gross Horwitz through a bequest to Columbia University. It is named to honor the donor’s mother. Louisa Gross Horwitz was the daughter of Dr. Samuel David Gross (1805-1889), a prominent Philadelphia surgeon. Gross served as president of the American Medical Association and was author of the outstanding “Systems of Surgery.”

The 2012 Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize Lectures will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 20, followed by an awards ceremony. Dr. Lutkenhaus will give his lecture, “Dividing a Bacterial Cell,” from 10–11 am in the Davis Auditorium, 530 W. 120 Street, on Columbia University’s Morningside Campus. Dr. Losick will give his lecture, “Chains, Communities and Going Green,” from 12–1 pm in the Davis Auditorium. Dr. Shapiro will give her lecture, “Cell Cycle Regulation in a 3D Grid,” from 3:30–4:30 pm in the Alumni Auditorium, College of Physicians & Surgeons Building, 650 W. 168 Street, at Columbia University Medical Center.

For more information about the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize and Nov. 20 lectures, please visit http://www.cumc.columbia.edu/research/horwitz-prize/.

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MEDIA CONTACT/RSVP for Horwitz Prize Lectures on Nov. 20, 2012 (details above): Elizabeth Streich, 212-305-3689; estreich@columbia.edu