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Simpson and Priestley Lectures set for October 2 and 3, 2017

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21 September 2017 Balasubramanian poses for the camera.

Sir Shankar Balasubramanian, Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the University of Cambridge and senior group leader at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute, will present the 2017/2018 Robert T. Simpson Memorial Lecture in Molecular Medicine at 4:00 p.m. on Monday, October 2, 2017, in 108 Wartik Laboratory on the Penn State University Park campus. The public lecture, titled “Decoding Human Genomes on a Population Scale,” is sponsored by the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Balasubramanian will also present the 2017/2018 Joseph Priestley Lecture in the Chemical Sciences at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, October 3, in 301A Chemistry Building. This more specialized lecture, titled “G-quadruplexes: The Structure and Function of the DNA Quadruple Helix,” is sponsored by the Department of Chemistry.

Balasubramanian’s research focuses on the chemistry, structure, and function of DNA. He co-invented Solexa -- now Illumina -- sequencing, the leading next-generation DNA-sequencing technology that revolutionized biology by allowing routine, accurate, and low-cost genome sequencing. He has studied the functional relevance and biological implications of quadruple helical “G-quadruplexes” that appear when sequences of nucleic acids -- which often take the structure of a double helix as DNA -- contain many instances of guanine, the G in the ATCG alphabet of DNA. More recently, Balasubramanian has developed methods for sequencing DNA that has been modified by epigenetics -- chemical changes that affect how the DNA sequence is interpreted. His collective contributions span fundamental chemistry and its application to the biological and medical sciences.

Balasubramanian was honored by Queen Elizabeth II as a Knight Bachelor in 2017 and was named Innovator of the Year and Commercial Innovator of the Year by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council in 2010. He has received many awards, including the Annual Award for Outstanding Contribution to Biomolecular Technologies by the Association of Biomolecular Resource Facilities in 2017, the CRSI Medal by the Chemical Research Society of India in 2015, the Heatley Medal and Prize by the Biochemical Society in 2014, the Tetrahedron Prize for creativity in Organic and Biomolecular Chemistry by Elsevier in 2013, and the Mullard Award by the Royal Society in 2009. Balasubramanian is an elected fellow of the Royal Society and the Academy of Medical Science and an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization.

After receiving a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Cambridge in 1991, Balasubramanian was appointed as a SERC/NATO Research Fellow at Penn State in the laboratory of Stephen J. Benkovic, Evan Pugh University Professor and Eberly Chair in Chemistry. Balasubramanian returned to Cambridge as a Royal Society University Research Fellow in 1994 and was named the Herchel Smith Professor of Medicinal Chemistry in 2008.

The Robert T. Simpson Lectureship honors Robert T. Simpson and is made possible through donations from his family, friends, colleagues and associates. Dr. Simpson was an international leader for more than 35 years in research on chromatin -- a fundamental component of chromosomes -- and its role in gene regulation. Simpson was at the National Institutes of Health from 1970 until 1995, when he became the Verne M. Willaman Professor of Molecular Biology at Penn State. His addition to Penn State in 1995 is considered to have placed Penn State and the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the forefront of chromatin research and to have greatly enhanced Penn State's research and educational missions.

The Priestley Lectures are named in honor of Joseph Priestley, the eighteenth-century chemist who discovered oxygen, and were established by the late Professor Wheeler P. Davey in 1926.

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