Joan A. Steitz Receives the Grande Médaille

Jiahe Gu
By Jiahe Gu December 20, 2013 23:39
Professor Joan A. Steitz, recipient of the 2013 Grande Médaille. Courtesy of Joan Steitz.

Professor Joan A. Steitz, recipient of the 2013 Grande Médaille. Courtesy of Joan Steitz.

Yale University’s Joan A. Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, will receive the 2013 Grande Médaille from the French Academy of Sciences. Each year, the Academy bestows the Grande Médaille as its highest honor to a French national or foreign researcher who has “contributed in some remarkable and decisive way to progress in his or her field.”

Depiction of Jean-Baptiste Colbert presenting the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV, who founded the Academy in 1666. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Depiction of Jean-Baptiste Colbert presenting the members of the Royal Academy of Sciences to Louis XIV, who founded the Academy in 1666. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After obtaining her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Antioch College in 1963, Steitz joined the laboratory of James Watson at Harvard University. There, she began her study of ribonucleic acids (RNA). Throughout her career, she has provided groundbreaking insights into the workings of RNA. Most notably, since joining the faculty at Yale in 1970, Steitz has shown that ribosomes bind messenger RNA (mRNA) during translation through complementary base pairing and that a class of non-coding RNA, small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), exists to splice introns from mRNA following transcription. With her group, Steitz continues to discover “new, wonderful, and sometimes bizarre examples of how the power of [RNA] base pairing controls and sets the foundation for so many things that go on inside cells.”

The Institut de France, located in Paris, is where the French Academy of Sciences is housed and where Steitz will receive her award. Courtesy of the Institut de France.

The Institut de France, located in Paris, is where the French Academy of Sciences is housed and where Steitz will receive her award. Courtesy of the Institut de France.

In addition to her pioneering research, Steitz is also recognized for promoting the involvement of women in science. When Steitz began her career, few female role models existed in molecular biology. Steitz has since become a prominent and respected leader in the field. Regarding her Grande Médaille, Steitz hopes that “whoever reads the publicity…sees that women are making contributions just like men to science.”

Steitz is widely known for her work on non-coding RNA. Shown above is an alanine tRNA found in baker’s yeast, the first non-coding RNA to be characterized. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Steitz is widely known for her work on non-coding RNA. Shown above is an alanine tRNA found in baker’s yeast, the first non-coding RNA to be characterized. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Jiahe Gu
By Jiahe Gu December 20, 2013 23:39