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September 25, 2018

Genetics, Biochemistry, and “Simple” Organisms Converge to Unlock Secrets in Histone Biology: The 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Author Affiliations
  • 1University of California, Los Angeles
  • 2The Rockefeller University, New York, New York
JAMA. 2018;320(12):1233-1234. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.12437

The 2018 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award has been presented to Michael Grunstein and C. David Allis for genetic and biochemical discoveries elucidating how the expression of genes is influenced by chemical modification of histones, the proteins that package DNA within the chromosomes of cells.

Gaining mechanistic insights into fundamental problems in biology often involves multiple complementary approaches. One such problem is how genes are regulated in cells, a long-standing issue at the heart of essentially all biological processes. Studies conducted first in prokaryotic cells defined many of the general concepts and models regarding how cells selectively, rapidly, and robustly induce the expression of specific genes (or silence them) in response to environmental cues. The pursuit of this general question in eukaryotic cells, however, forces consideration of the gene expression problem in the context of “chromatin”—a highly organized complex of genomic DNA packaged by a well-defined set of histone proteins that have changed little during the evolution of eukaryotes. The genes encoding histone proteins are organized into multicopy gene families to fulfill the high dosage requirement of histones needed to package larger genomes in the confines of a nuclear compartment.