Michael Crickmore Wins GE & Science Prize for Research on the Molecular Basis of Body Size

For his research about why the body parts of a single animal develop into different sizes, Michael Crickmore, a regional winner from North America, has been named the 2009 Grand Prize winner for the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists. The competition, which includes a grand-prize award of $25,000, is supported by GE Healthcare and the journal Science, which is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

“I was really proud to win this prize, especially when I looked at the list of previous winners and saw not only their great graduate work but that they continued to have great postdoctoral work and now run labs of their own and make really important discoveries, and I really want to join them in that aspect,” said Crickmore in a Skype interview from New York City.


Michael Crickmore

Crickmore will receive his award for his research in the field of molecular biology in Stockholm, Sweden, on Friday 11 December, during an award ceremony. He received the grand prize for his essay, “The Molecular Basis of Size Differences,” which was published in the 4 December issue of Science.

“The award was established in order to recognize promising doctoral students worldwide at the beginning of their careers,” said Monica Bradford, executive editor of Science. “The Prize rewards innovative scientific research in the field of molecular biology.”

Michael Crickmore’s prize-winning essay describes his research about why the body parts of a single animal develop into different sizes. Fingers, toes, and rib bones, for example, are all sets of structures whose members are similar in form but vary in size, and Crickmore has been investigating the particular genes underlying those unique growth processes. His research has focused on the development of certain wings and appendages on the common fruit fly, Drosophila, and showed how the regulation of particular proteins controls the sizes of those tissues.

Watch Michael Crickmore talk about his research with AAAS's Natasha Pinol

“My essay describes my graduate work in Richard Mann’s lab at Columbia University,” said Crickmore. “I asked how different body parts (for example, fingers) become different sizes,” he said. “I found that the production and distribution of secreted, growth-controlling morphogens are altered in tissues of different sizes and that these alterations in morphogen landscapes underlie size differences.”

Crickmore’s studies on the signaling pathways that govern such tissue development have revealed how a delicate balance of size-regulating genes, such as dpp, tkvi and dally, are maintained in the flies in order for specialized cells to form appropriately sized tissues. His findings shed light on the genetic differences between some of our physical features, like thumbs and pinky fingers, but they also raise more questions regarding the drastic size differences between animals like mice and elephants.

“The more I work with fruit flies, the more I’m impressed with them,” Crickmore explained. “We can use the molecular genetic techniques of Drosophila to address some of the fundamental mysteries, even of the brain... the molecular basis of a sensation.”

“I have been really impressed by the quality of the papers submitted for the GE and Science prize over the years. This year's winners are very impressive young scientists,” said Peter Ehrenheim, president and CEO, Life Sciences, GE Healthcare. “We are very pleased to co-sponsor, along with AAAS, a program which supports a strong pipeline of talent driving hard for discoveries that will make our world a better place.”

Crickmore was born in Flint, Michigan, but as a child he moved with his mother and brother to suburban Los Angeles and finally to Philadelphia. He became serious about science only after college while working as a technician in Ken Irvine’s lab at Rutgers University. Inspired by the ideas of Dragana Rogulja, an Irvine lab graduate student studying size control, Crickmore did his graduate work on size in Richard Mann’s lab at Columbia University. But his long-term interests lie in understanding how the brain works, something he is now trying to address as a postdoctoctoral fellow in Leslie Vosshall’s lab at The Rockefeller University in New York City, where he lives with his wife Dragana and their little boy, Cy.

Each year since 1995, the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists has recognized outstanding young molecular biologists at an early stage of their careers. Some 62 regional winners and 15 grand prize winners have so far received the award, honoring exceptional thesis work in the field of molecular biology.

Applicants for the 2009 GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists earned their Ph.D. degrees in 2008 and submitted a 1,000-word essay based on their dissertations. Their essays were judged on the quality of research and the applicants’ ability to articulate how their work would contribute to the field of molecular biology, which investigates biological processes in terms of the physical and chemical properties of molecules in a cell.

A judging panel selects the GE & Science Prize for Young Life Scientists grand prize winner and may present regional awards in four geographic regions: North America, Europe, Japan and all other countries. These regional winners receive $5,000 awards. In addition to the grand prize, the 2009 awards also recognize the following regional winners:

Michaela Gack (Europe): For her essay “Regulation of RIG-I-Mediated Antiviral Innate Immunity.” Gack was born in Coburg, Germany. She studied molecular medicine at the Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany, and in September 2005 joined the newly established exchange program between the graduate training program of the FAU Erlangen-Nuremberg and Harvard Medical School (HMS) in Boston. Gack completed a Ph.D. project in the laboratory of Jae Jung at the New England Primate Center of HMS. Her postdoctoral studies were conducted at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. Since April 2009, she has been an independent instructor at the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics of HMS, where she continues to investigate innate immune responses against viral infections and viral immune evasion mechanisms.

Masahiro Kitano (Japan): For his essay “Imaging of Rab5 Activity Identifies Essential Regulators for Phagosome Maturation.” Kitano was born in 1980 and grew up in Bieicho, Japan, a town famous for its beautiful hills. He attended Kyoto University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical science in 2003 and a master’s degree in physical and organic chemistry in 2005. A strong interest in molecular imaging led him to join Michiyuki Matsuda’s laboratory at Osaka University, where he developed a biosensor to identify regulators of the phagosome maturation process. Kitano completed his doctorate in September 2008 and is currently studying the dynamics of immune cells in vivo as a Special Postdoctoral Researcher in the laboratory of Takaharu Okada at the RIKEN Yokahama Institute.

Tommy Kaplan (All Other Countries): For his essay “From DNA Sequence to Chromatin Dynamics: Computational Analysis of Transcriptional Regulation.” Kaplan received his B.Sc. in Computer Science and Cognitive Studies from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. His Ph.D. research, in computational biology, focused on various aspects of transcriptional regulation, under the supervision of Nir Friedman and Hanah Margalit at the Hebrew University, and in close collaboration with Ollie Rando at Harvard/University of Massachusetts. Since 2002, Kaplan has been involved in teaching the combined B.Sc./M.Sc. program in Computer Science and Life Sciences at the Hebrew University. Currently, he is a postdoctoral fellow in Mike Eisen’s lab at the University of California, Berkeley, where he develops computational models to understand the evolution and control of gene expression during the early developmental stages of fruit fly embryos. In his spare time, Kaplan enjoys mountain biking, reading, and hiking in Northern California with his wife and two sons.


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About Science/AAAS

Science is a leading international journal covering all scientific disciplines. It is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general scientific organization. AAAS was founded in 1848, and serves 262 affiliated societies and academies of science, reaching 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The nonprofit AAAS is open to all and fulfills its mission to “advance science and serve society” through initiatives in science policy; international programs; science education; and more.