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Squire Booker with lab equipment

Squire Booker named inaugural Fellow of American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

27 April 2021

Squire J. Booker, Evan Pugh Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Penn State, Holder of the Eberly Family Distinguished Chair in Science, and investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has been named an inaugural Fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB).

Selection as a Fellow is an honor bestowed upon distinguished members of the society who have made outstanding contributions to the field through their research, teaching and mentoring, or other forms of service. ASBMB announced the 30 members of its first class April 27 at the society’s annual meeting.

“Our first class of fellows represents a distinguished group of scientists who have demonstrated leadership and sustained commitment to the ASBMB, and whose accomplishments span the breadth of our society missions to promote scientific discovery, professional development, inclusiveness and diversity, nurture the next generation of scientists, and inform decision-makers and the public of the significance of scientific findings,” said Judith Bond, past president of the ASBMB and chair of the fellows subcommittee. “These fellows honor us by being members of the ASBMB and are great role models for aspiring scientists."

Booker has chaired the ASBMB's Minority Affairs Committee and was one of the founding principal investigators on the ASBMB Interactive Mentoring Activities for Grantsmanship Enhancement grant writing workshop. He also co-organized the 2016 ASBMB annual meeting. He now serves on the Finance and Nominating committees.

"Squire's work is characterized by its elegance and rigor,” said a nominator. “His research productivity is all the more impressive given his heavy teaching load and service commitments both at Penn State and nationally."

Booker’s main research interests include deciphering the molecular details by which enzymes—a special class of proteins—catalyze reactions in the cell. He then uses the insight gained to manipulate these reactions for various objectives, ranging from the production of biofuels to the development of antibacterial agents. His laboratory garnered international attention for elucidating a pathway by which disease-causing bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus evade entire classes of commonly used antibiotics. These results were published in three papers in the journal Science, a paper in Nature Chemical Biology, and two papers in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. He is particularly well known for his research on enzymes employing extremely reactive molecules, known as free radicals, to catalyze their reactions.

In 2016, Booker received the Penn State Faculty Scholar Medal, which recognizes scholarly or creative excellence through contributions around a coherent theme. In 2015, he was named an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a science philanthropy organization dedicated to advancing biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. In 2011, he was honored with an Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award by the American Chemical Society, which is given "to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry." In 2004, Booker was recognized as one of 57 of the country's most promising scientists and engineers by President George W. Bush with the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. He received the award at the White House in recognition of his research on enzyme reactions, including his work on an enzyme involved in the synthesis of unusual fatty acids that are needed by the bacteria responsible for most cases of tuberculosis. In 2002, he received a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award, the agency's most prestigious award for new faculty members. Booker is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Booker has mentored 22 graduate students, 50 undergraduate students,15 postdoctoral associates and research scientists, and two high-school students. He is known for encouraging students in underrepresented groups to consider science-based careers, and currently serves on the steering committees for ABRCMS (American Biomedical Research Conference for Minority Students) and ASBMB’s NIH MOSAIC (Maximizing Opportunities for Scientific and Academic Independent Careers) program. He is currently an associate editor for the ACS journal Biochemistry and the deputy editor for the new ACS open access journal ACS Bio & Med Chem Au.

Booker earned a bachelor's degree in chemistry at Austin College in 1987, where he was a Minnie Stevens Piper Scholar, and a doctoral degree in biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1994. That same year he was awarded a National Science Foundation–NATO Fellowship for postdoctoral studies at Université René Décartes in Paris, France. Later, in 1996, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health Postdoctoral Fellowship for studies at the Institute for Enzyme Research at the University of Wisconsin. He joined the Penn State faculty in 1999.