Gierasch Named as Inaugural Fellow of American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Lila Gierasch
Lila Gierasch

Lila Gierasch, Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at UMass Amherst, was recently named one of the inaugural fellows of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB). The fellowship recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to the field through their research, teaching and mentoring, or other forms of service.

It’s an especially sweet recognition for Gierasch. “I have been a member of ASBMB since early in my career, back in 1981,” she says. Since those early days, Gierasch has gone on to a prolific career, authoring more than 250 papers, mentoring scores of students, and serving as the editor-in-chief of the “Journal of Biological Chemistry” since 2016.

“What is most special about Lila,” wrote UMass’s own Daniel Hebert, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology in his nomination of Gierasch, “are the many things she does that do not show up on a resume. Beyond serving as an example of excellence and dedication, she cares deeply about her trainees and colleagues.” Gierasch says that it’s “a great honor to be in this inaugural class, not only because it recognizes the research my students and I have done, but also the years of service. It’s really meaningful when your own peers decide to give you an award like this.”

Giersach’s specialty is the protein folding problem, or the way that our genetic information eventually translates and transforms itself into a protein with a functional three-dimensional structure. There are four “letters” in the linear DNA code: A, C, G, and T. Through the complex process of transcription, translation, and finally protein folding, those four, two-dimensional letters turn into a 20-letter, three-dimensional recipe for proteins—one of the building blocks of human life. “It’s like going from a blueprint to a finished building,” says Gierasch. The vast majority of the time, the translation from four-letter DNA to 20-letter protein works flawlessly—but when it doesn’t, the results can be serious. “Devastating consequences can result,” says Gierasch, including Alzheimer’s disease, ALS, and other neurodegenerative diseases.

“These fellows,” says Judith Bond, past president of the ASBMB and chair of the fellows subcommittee, “honor us by being members of the ASBMB and are great role models for aspiring scientists.”