Three Washington University in St. Louis scientists are among the 84 members and 21 foreign associates elected to the National Academy of Sciences this year. Election to the academy is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded a U.S. scientist or engineer.
The university’s new academy members are:
- Stephen M. Beverley, PhD, the Marvin A. Brennecke Professor of Molecular Microbiology and chair of the Department of Molecular Microbiology in the School of Medicine;
- Robert D. Schreiber, PhD, Alumni Endowed Professor of Pathology and Immunology and professor of molecular microbiology in the School of Medicine and co-leader of the Tumor Immunology Program at Siteman Cancer Center;
- Joan E. Strassmann, PhD, professor of biology in Arts & Sciences.
“I’m still in shock,” said Beverley. “I got the news a few minutes before boarding a flight from London back to St. Louis, and I didn’t really need the plane.”
Beverley studies the biology of the protozoan parasite Leishmania, including virulence factors, host response and basic metabolic functions of the parasite.
Leishmania infection, known as leishmaniasis, affects an estimated 12 million people worldwide. It is mainly spread by sand fly bites and is a major public health problem in the Mediterranean basin, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Central and South America. Symptoms include large skin lesions, fever, swelling of the spleen and liver, and, in more serious forms of the disease, disfigurement and death.
Beverley and his colleagues have probed many aspects of Leishmania biology through the development and application of advanced genetic tools.
Accomplishments in recent years have included the discovery that one group of Leishmania parasites uses a genetic regulatory system called RNA interference. This system normally is used to control mobile genetic elements that can disrupt the parasite’s chromosomes. But scientists can now use the same system to turn genes on and off in the parasite, helping to identify which genes are most important for the infectious process.
Beverley is also active in the hunt for new drug treatments and vaccines for Leishmania.
Beverley earned a PhD in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and did postdoctoral research at Stanford University. In 1983, he moved to Harvard Medical School, where he eventually became the Hsien and Daisy Yen Wu Professor and interim chair of the Department of Biological Chemistry & Molecular Pharmacology. In 1997, he joined the faculty at Washington University School of Medicine as head of the Department of Molecular Microbiology.
In collaboration with her husband and colleague, David C. Queller, PhD, the Spencer T. Olin Professor of Biology in Arts & Sciences, she has measured genetic relatedness within colonies of many wasp species, including Polistes exclamans, and showed that kin selection theory predicts the existence and outcome of within-family conflicts of interest. They also have pioneered the use of DNA microsatellites for relatedness estimation.
In 1998, they began working with the social amoebae Dictyostelium discoideum, a model organism for exploring the evolution of social interactions at the physiological, genetic and genomic levels. In a series of papers, they have demonstrated the power of social evolution theory in explaining multicellular organization, from developmental pathways to cell adhesion.
She earned a PhD in 1979 from the University of Texas at Austin. From 1980 to 2011, Strassmann was on the faculty of Rice University in Houston, Texas, where she was the Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. In 2011, she became a professor of biology at Washington University. That same year, she was elected president of the Animal Behavior Society.