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Fedoroff to Receive National Medal of Science

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Nina V. Fedoroff, the Verne M. Willaman Chair in Life Sciences and Evan Pugh Professor at Penn State University, and an External Professor of the Santa Fe Institute, is one of eight scientists named today by President Bush to receive the 2006 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research. The honorees will receive medals at a White House ceremony on 27 July 2007.

The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research, in a range of fields including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral, and engineering sciences, that enhances our understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies that give the United States its global economic edge. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by Congress in 1959.

Fedoroff is one of the nation's most prominent researchers in the life sciences and biotechnology. Fedoroff earned a bachelor's degree in biology and chemistry, summa cum laude, from Syracuse University in 1966 and a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the Rockefeller University in 1972. Throughout her career, she has distinguished herself in the development and application of molecular and genetic techniques to important biological problems.

As a postdoctoral fellow, she worked on DNA-sequencing techniques, which she used to produce one of the first complete gene sequences, that of a Xenopus laevis 5S ribosomal RNA gene. She became a staff scientist in 1978 at the Carnegie Institution of Washington, where she turned to plant research, pioneered the application of molecular techniques to plants, and cloned some of the first plant genes. She then undertook the molecular characterization of the mobile elements — now known as transposons — discovered by maize geneticist and Nobel laureate Barbara McClintock in the 1940s. She cloned the first complete maize transposon and went on to study the molecular mechanisms that control the mobility of the maize Suppressor-mutator element. She discovered a unique type of heritable, but reversible, regulatory circuit — now called epigenetic — that controls the mobility of transposons.

After moving to Penn State in 1995 as the Willaman Professor of the Life Sciences, she founded and directed a multidisciplinary organization now known as the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences (http://www.lsc.psu.edu/). She was appointed an Evan Pugh Professor, Penn State's highest academic honor, in 2002. Today, her laboratory studies the recently discovered phenomenon of gene regulation by small RNA molecules, as well as genes that contribute to the ability of plants to perceive and protect themselves from environmental stressors, such as ground-level ozone. The overall goal of her research is to understand and strengthen the mechanisms that allow plants to withstand the environmental challenges of a changing climate.

Among her many professional activities in the national and international scientific communities, she has been a member of the National Institutes of Health Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee and the Boards of Directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Genetics Society of America. She has been a member of the National Research Council's Commission on Life Sciences, its Board on Biology, and its Biotechnology Committee. She has served the National Academy of Sciences as a member of Council and as Chair of its Publications Committee, as well as a member of the Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences . She served on the International Scientific Advisory Board of the Engelhardt Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow and was a member of the founding board of the Soros International Science Foundation. She is a member of the Science Steering Committee of the Santa Fe Institute and of the Board of Directors of the Sigma-Aldrich Corporation.

In 2001, President Clinton appointed Fedoroff to the National Science Board, a 24-person board that oversees the activities of the National Science Foundation. Members are selected on the basis of their eminence in science, engineering, education, or research management. They are appointed for a six-year term by the president and confirmed by the United States Senate.

She has been active in communicating science to a wider audience, as well. As a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar in 1984-85, she explained and discussed the many issues surrounding the use of recombinant DNA techniques. More recently, she has been active in public discussions surrounding the introduction of genetically modified crop plants. She co-authored a book with science writer Nancy Marie Brown titled " Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods," published by the Joseph Henry Press of the National Academy of Sciences. She has done many radio and television interviews, and has lectured widely on the subject throughout the United States, Europe, China, India, and Bangladesh.

Fedoroff is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi honorary societies. She has received honors and awards that include the University of Chicago's Howard Taylor Ricketts Award in 1990, the New York Academy of Sciences Outstanding Contemporary Women Scientist Award in 1992, the Sigma Xi McGovern Science and Society Medal in 1997, and Syracuse University's Arents Pioneer Medal in 2003. She has received research grants from the National Science Foundation, the United States Department of Agriculture, the National Atmospheric and Space Administration, and the National Institutes of Health, including a 10-year National Institutes of Health MERIT Award.

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CONTACTS:
Nina V. Fedoroff: nvf1@psu.edu, (+1)814-863-5717
Barbara K. Kennedy (PIO): science@psu.edu, (+1)814-863-4682

Some images from the Whitehouse Awards Ceremony on 27 July 2007

Click on any of these images to see a larger view. All images courtesy of Greg Grieco, Penn State.

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