This year’s Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Covergence Research was awarded to NAM member Frances H. Arnold for her pioneering work on enzymes.
Dr. Arnold, currently Dick and Barbara Dickinson Professor of Chemical Engineering, Bioengineering, and Biochemistry at Caltech and Director, Donna and Benjamin M. Rosen Bioengineering Center, has spent her career working with enzymes. In the 1990s, she developed a technique called directed evolution which allows scientists to “breed” proteins with desirable traits that would have otherwise been difficult or impossible to design. This technique has proven to be invaluable to scientists and industry and has broad applications in sustainable biofuels, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals.
By mutating DNA that codes for enzymes and selecting the mutant enzymes with improved performance, scientists are able to “evolve” them until an ideal enzyme is produced. These ideal enzymes are used in a variety of ways, including in agriculture, drug manufacturing, and in industrial products. This technique has also allowed researchers to examine the molecular basis of protein function and to test evolutionary theory.
In 2011, Dr. Arnold was the first woman to receive the Charles Stark Draper Prize from the National Academy of Engineering. She also received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2013.
The Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Convergence Research recognizes significant advances in convergence research–the integration of two or more of the following disciplines: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biomedicine, biology, astronomy, earth sciences, engineering, and computational science–for achievements possible only through such integration. The award is presented with a medal and a $350,000 cash prize.
Dr. Arnold will be honored in a ceremony on Sunday, April 30, during the National Academy of Sciences’ 154th annual meeting. For more information about the Sackler Prize, please click here.