MCB congratulates Dr. Susan Gerbi on her 2017 George W. Beadle Award. Each year, the Genetics Society of America honors one investigator for “outstanding contributions to the community of genetics research” such as “creating and disseminating an invaluable technique or tool, assisting the community with the adoption of a model system, working to provide a voice for the community in public or political forums, and/or maintaining active leadership roles.” This distinguished honor was presented to Dr. Gerbi during the 58th Annual Drosophila Research Conference in California.
Dr. Gerbi is the George D. Eggleston Professor of Biochemistry and Professor of Biology at Brown University. In part with NSF support, she has made many notable scientific contributions in all of the areas described above. For example, together with Dr. Joseph Gall, Dr. Gerbi created in situ hybridization, an invaluable technique to locate genes on chromosomes. Additionally, she developed a novel Replication Initiation Point Mapping (RIP) technique that enabled researchers to pinpoint the start site for DNA replication in eukaryotes. Dr. Gerbi and her group also solved the first sequence of eukaryotic 28S ribosomal RNA (28S rRNA). By comparing it to its bacterial homologue (23S rRNA), Dr. Gerbi and her team identified both regions of variability (expansion segments), which aid researchers during phylogenetic analysis, and key regions of conservation (core secondary structure and domain specific conserved sequences) that are held constant among organisms to maintain rRNA function. Further, Dr. Gerbi was the first to identify an in vivo role for U3 small nucleolar RNA, which promotes ribosomal RNA folding and processing, and she was the first to develop a fluorescence-based method to track localization of small RNAs in vivo, which allowed for the identification of specific sequences that target the RNAs to the sites of ribosome assembly in the nucleolus.
Dr. Gerbi and her research team also developed Sciara coprophilia as a model organism, mapping the fly’s genome using a new, handheld DNA sequencing technology called the Oxford Nanopore MinION. (The MinION made a recent appearance in space when it was used by NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins to sequence DNA on the International Space Station.) With the genome, transcriptome, and methodology for genome editing now available, Dr. Gerbi is actively promoting the use of Sciara as a model organism to mine its unique biological features, including a monopolar spindle in meiosis, non-disjunction, chromosome imprinting, and elimination. Studies on Sciara offer new insights into the mechanisms of locus-specific DNA re-replication, which may serve as a paradigm for gene amplification in cancer. This work was partially funded by the Genetic Mechanisms cluster of the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Award #MCB-1607411.
Dr. Gerbi has also served the scientific community in numerous leadership positions and science advocacy roles. For example, Dr. Gerbi was Founding Chair of the Department of Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Biochemistry at Brown University, serving in that role for 10 years. Just a few of the many broader impacts of her work that have focused on training the next generation of scientists include 33 years of service as principal investigator (PI) or co-PI on Brown University’s National Institutes of Health (NIH) predoctoral training grant. Dr. Gerbi has also served as President of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB), fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), chair of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Consensus Conference on Graduate Education, founding member and Chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Graduate Research Education and Training (GREAT) group, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Committee’s Study on the National Needs for Biomedical Research Personnel. She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences committee on Bridges to Independence, which led to NIH’s Pathway to Independence K99 award that provides research funding opportunities to postdoctoral researchers who are transitioning to faculty positions.
For these and other efforts, Dr. Gerbi has contributed greatly to the genetics community through her dedication to scientific research, leadership, and advocacy. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Susan Gerbi!