Dr. Steven Henikoff, a Hutchinson Center geneticist, biologist and inventor, has been named a 2012 Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, or AAAS. Election as a fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.
Henikoff, of the Basic Sciences Division, is being honored for "distinguished contributions to chromatin biology, centromere structure, nucleosome stability and plant epigenetics, which have had widespread influence in several fields."
"Steve is a true innovator. He’s developed methods for analyzing DNA sequences and chromatin that have profoundly influenced work here at the Hutchinson Center and in laboratories around the world," said Dr. Jonathan Cooper, director of the Basic Sciences Division. "What’s more, he had the courage to invest time and effort on some rather obscure patterns of inheritance that defy Mendel’s laws of heredity. As a result, he has discovered new ways that genes are regulated in human and animal cells. He’s a valued colleague and a wonderful mentor."
Henikoff’s research has long focused on epigenetics—investigating how patterns of gene activity can change and then propagate through generations without any corresponding change in DNA sequence. He uses fruit flies and plants to study these heritable changes, which are reversible. This suggests the possibility that some aspects of cancer may also be reversed.
He also is the inventor of widely used computer programs and other research tools that have fostered breakthroughs in many areas of medicine. His inventions, which include databases for making sense of DNA sequence information, have been indispensable to biologists from all disciplines, from those who study metabolic pathways in yeast to researchers who seek clues to the origins of cancer.
Henikoff studies some of the oldest problems in chromosome research using innovative strategies designed in his own laboratory. He is credited with helping build the infrastructure for analyzing the human genome and was among the first to realize that computing and the Internet had the power to revolutionize the way biological research is done.
Henikoff was previously elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the highest honor for a U.S. scientist.
A Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and an affiliate professor of Genome Sciences at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Henikoff is among 702 AAAS Fellows selected this year for "scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications."
Henikoff will be honored Feb. 16 at the Fellows Forum during the 2013 AAAS annual meeting in Boston.
AAAS Fellows from the Basic Sciences Division include: Drs. Roger Brent, Linda Buck, Robert Eisenman, Mark Groudine, Maxine Linial, Paul Neiman and Gerald Smith. Other Center Fellows include Dr. Denise Galloway of the Human Biology and Public Health Sciences divisions; Dr. M. Elizabeth Halloran of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division; Dr. John Potter, former head of the Public Health Sciences Division; and Dr. Meng-Chao Yao, formerly of Basic and now head of the Institute of Molecular Biology, Academia Sinica, in Taipei, Taiwan.
The AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science. The organization was founded in 1848 and the tradition of electing AAAS Fellows began in 1874.