Two RNA Society members win 2021 Warren Alpert Prize for RNA Discoveries

The 2021 Warren Alpert Foundation Prize has been awarded to Dr. Lynne Maquat and Dr. Joan Steitz, two long-time RNA Society members, for seminal discoveries in the biology and function of RNA. The Warren Alpert Foundation Prize recognizes the research of scientists throughout the world and acknowledged the work of Maquat and Steitz as reshaping our understanding of RNA’s myriad roles in cell function and disease. The two scientists will be recognized at a virtual scientific symposium on Oct. 7, 2021, hosted by Harvard Medical School.

Lynne Maquat is the J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair and a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester, where she is also the founding director of the Center for RNA Biology and the founding chair of Graduate Women in Science. She is being honored for her discovery and studies of nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD), a cellular quality-control system that recognizes and destroys aberrant mRNA. NMD is integral to normal cell function and plays a role in the manifestation of up to one-third of inherited and acquired human diseases, including many forms of cancer. Maquat’s work has contributed to understanding the circumstances under which NMD triggers mRNA decay and which disease-causing mutations in mRNA may cause activation of the pathway - insights that have enabled design of individualized therapies to precision-target a patient’s unique mutation.

Joan Steitz is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. She is being recognized for research that elucidated the fundamental biology of RNA and RNA processing, and the multiple roles that RNA plays in transcription, splicing, and translation. Steitz’s early discoveries helped determine how ribosomes function in translating RNA into proteins and her pioneering work on small nuclear ribonucleoparticles (snRNPs) led to several important discoveries including the mechanistic role of snRNPs in RNA splicing and how defective snRNPs contribute to the development of an array of diseases. Further, her work on snRNPs has shed light on the mechanisms underlying a variety of autoimmune conditions and also as to how viral snRNPs act to subvert the normal functions of the host cells they infect.

(Adapted from