|Stanford Report, April 14, 2004|
wins prestigious Korean prize for far-reaching genetics
Geneticist's 'dictionary' boosts evolutionary understanding
By AMY ADAMSWith the help of a translucent worm not much larger than a bit of lint, Stuart Kim, PhD, professor of developmental biology at the School of Medicine, has won the international Ho-Am Prize in medicine.
The award honoring Byung-Chull Lee (nicknamed Ho-Am), the founder of corporate giant Samsung, supports people who "have contributed to cultural, artistic and social development or furthered the welfare of humanity through distinguished accomplishments in their respective professional fields."
Kim won the $90,000 prize for his work with the millimeter-long roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. Its small size, fully sequenced genome and short lifespan has allowed Kim to ask larger questions about how genes control biological processes such as aging or development.
Since coming to Stanford in 1989, Kim has pieced together how genes control the intricate signaling that guides cells during development. After the C. elegans genome was sequenced in 1999, his research turned to analyzing large groups of genes that act together to control processes rather than individual genes. This work takes advantage of microarray technology, which provides a snapshot of all active genes in a given cell or tissue.
By combining microarray data from C. elegans, mice, humans and other animals, Kim has constructed a way of analyzing which genes have evolved to work together. This genetic dictionary could help researchers understand the role of uncharacterized genes and can also identify which genes have evolved new roles over time.
"This tool tells you which genetic words are used together. If I see a new word and I see its context I know what that word means," Kim said of his research.
Other work in Kim's lab revolves around how groups of genes control the process of aging from early adolescence in C. elegans (corresponding to about three days) until the worms die of old age at about 19 days. He is also extending these studies to human aging.
The Ho-Am Prize is awarded to people of Korean descent working in the fields of science, engineering, medicine, the arts or community service. Nominees are reviewed by a panel of Korean experts for excellence in their field. They also "must be evaluated high in society and present an exemplary model, representing the candidate's noble spirit and the outcome of his selfless devotion," in keeping with Lee's lifelong commitment to public service.
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