Two Stanford scientists among ’10 people who mattered’ in 2015
Nature, the venerable science journal, has announced its list of 10 people who mattered in the world in 2015, and two of them are from Stanford.
ZHENAN BAO, professor of chemical engineering, and CHRISTINA SMOLKE, associate professor of bioengineering, were named to Nature‘s list of “10 people who mattered this year.”
Nature included Smolke and Bao on an elite list with an environmental crusader, an editor of human genes, a Pluto explorer, a nuclear diplomat, a voice for women, a genome archaeologist, a superconductor leader and a psychologist who tracks questionable science.
The journal described Bao as a “master of materials,” a chemical engineer who is merging electronics with the human body. She was lauded as a founder of the field of thin, flexible organic electronics, leading to the creation of medical devices that can be worn or implanted to monitor blood sugar and other vital data. Her team has also made progress in creating artificial skin that provides a sense of touch akin to natural skin.
Her work is highly interdisciplinary. “It’s not just one idea,” she told Nature, “Many ideas came together and made this possible.”
Smolke, Nature says, is “fermenting a revolution.” She’s been on a decade-long quest to genetically alter yeast to “brew” opioid medicines in stainless steel vats, eliminating the need to raise poppies and avoiding the issues that come with them, both medical and political.
Her team succeeded in engineering a yeast strain capable of making opioids without poppies. They found a way to identify an enzyme that converts reticuline – a chemical building block of morphine and other narcotics – from one form to another.
Most other labs hunting for the enzyme were working to isolate it from poppies directly, but Smolke’s team members took another approach: They combed through genetic databases, looking for snippets of sequence that looked as if they might be involved in reticuline metabolism.