The American Academy of Arts & Sciences today announced its 238th class of new members. Among them is Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center biologist Dr. Sue Biggins, a basic scientist who studies the mechanisms of cell division.
Biggins, who is also associate director of the Hutch’s Basic Sciences Division, studies the kinetochore, a large protein machine that distributes chromosomes to each of two daughter cells during division. She led the team which, for the first time, isolated the kinetochore from cells to study its function in test tubes.
That accomplishment allowed Biggins’ laboratory team to make further discoveries about how the kinetochore works, including the perhaps counterintuitive finding that the protein complexes rely on tension to do their jobs correctly. Kinetochores move chromosomes by attaching to protein tubes known as microtubules, which guide chromosomes to the daughter cells as the mother cell divides in two. Her team found that tension helps the kinetochore stay attached to the microtubule while it moves into the daughter cell.
“Sue has made seminal contributions to the kinetochore field,” said Dr. Mark Groudine, a Fred Hutch biologist and former deputy director who himself was elected to the Academy in 2006. The system Biggins developed by isolating the yeast kinetochore “has allowed her to answer some of the most important questions in cell biology that have persisted for 50 years,” he said. “It is safe to say that the impact of her work is just beginning as her methodology and concepts become exploited by labs around the world. The work from her laboratory will be in textbooks.”
Biggins joins a cohort of eight other current and former Hutch scientists who were elected to the Academy, and a total membership of 4,900 fellows from a variety of disciplines and institutions. The Academy, which was founded in 1780, is one of the country’s oldest learned societies and independent policy research centers.
“I’m very honored to join the other Hutch faculty members as a member of this distinguished organization that works to address challenges facing our nation,” said Biggins, who is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. “I especially hope to contribute to their work on science policy as well as any other Academy projects that strengthen the scientific mission in this country.”
The Cambridge, Massachusetts society released the names of the 213 members elected to the Class of 2018 this morning; members were elected in 25 categories and hail from 125 different institutions. The Academy also announced 36 new international honorary members. Notable members from the Class of 2018 include 44th President of the United States Barack H. Obama, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actor Tom Hanks and gene editing researcher Dr. Feng Zhang.
Other current and former Hutch researchers elected to the Academy besides Biggins and Groudine are President and Director Dr. Gary Gilliland (2016), President and Director Emeritus Dr. Larry Corey (2012), biologist Dr. Daniel Gottschling (2010), neurobiologist and Nobel laureate Dr. Linda Buck (2008), cancer biologist Dr. Robert Eisenman (2003), President and Director Emeritus and Nobel laureate Dr. Lee Hartwell (1998) and the late biologist Dr. Harold “Hal” Weintraub (1988).
Rachel Tompa is a former staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. She has a Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of California, San Francisco and a certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. Follow her on Twitter @Rachel_Tompa.