Yale Bulletin and Calendar

April 7, 2006|Volume 34, Number 25















Professor Scott Strobel (center) -- shown with undergraduate Alexandra Antonioli '07 and Nicholas Carasco, a postdoctoral fellow in MB&B -- will bring young scientists to conduct research in the rainforest as part of a new course he developed with an HHMI grant.

As HHMI Professor, Strobel will
take students 'bioprospecting'

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has named Scott Strobel, professor and newly appointed chair of the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, as one of its new HHMI Professors in recognition of his work as a teacher and mentor to the next generation of science students.

Strobel will receive $1 million over four years from HHMI to implement a program of innovative science teaching ideas. HHMI will also provide the resources for the Yale biophysicist and biochemist to take undergraduates "bio-prospecting" for promising natural products in the world's rainforests. The students will then purify and analyze the compounds they collect and test them for potentially beneficial activity.

An introductory science course for scientifically minded students, Strobel's program will offer a hands-on learning experience that challenges students to think like working scientists and to have a personal stake in the outcome of their project.

The course will have three parts. A spring-semester course will lay groundwork in the science and technologies -- with particular emphasis on evolution, ecology, and molecular and structural analysis. During spring break, students will take part in a working trek to a rainforest, most likely in the Amazon or New Zealand, to collect local branches and twigs, along with their associated microbes.

Upon return, the students will spend a rigorous summer session classifying their finds -- true "unknowns" -- and will begin to identify new bioactive compounds. The program is designed to introduce students to the questions and issues of handling specimens, and designing and using the procedures to characterize them. There will be no pre-packaged laboratory work, notes Stroebel; rather, students will work closely alongside faculty members.

The students will get their own results and be a part of processing -- and potentially publishing and patenting -- any novel compounds discovered. Because it is highly likely that the research will not be completed by the end of the summer, the program will provide students with a continuing project that can be transported to laboratories throughout the University for continuation of the work.

"To be manageable, the course will be limited to 10 to 12 students, all of whom must have some basic background in science. But, we are not necessarily looking for students intending to be science majors or pre-med," says Strobel. "Interest level and commitment to succeeding in the program will be important factors in the selection." Specifics of the selection process remain to be determined.

William Segraves, associate dean for science education in Yale College, says: "Everyone who's read Scott's proposal was instantly struck by how remarkably innovative it is. It integrates so many of Yale's objectives for the enhancement of undergraduate education: hands-on scientific discovery, close contact with leading faculty, truly interdisciplinary perspectives and first-hand experience of other lands and cultures."

A mentor for the project is Strobel's father, Gary Strobel at Montana State University, who discovered the bioactive compound taxol in a fungus that grows on yew trees. He and his colleagues found that the fungus had evolved the ability to synthesize taxol independent of the yew tree, thereby providing a source for the drug, which is now used to fight cancer. The elder Strobel now travels the world in search of other naturally occurring compounds with biological activity that may lead to the development of useful drugs.

Scott Strobel's own research uses a multidisciplinary approach to understanding biologically critical reactions that are catalyzed by RNA: splicing of RNA and peptide bond formation in protein synthesis. His group employs technologies that include biochemistry, organic synthesis, enzyme kinetics, X-ray crystallography and molecular biology. In addition to research awards, Strobel received the Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences from Yale in 2004

"Scott is a shining example of all that we hope for in our faculty," says Yale College Dean Peter Salovey. "He is a brilliant and highly productive scholar and a passionate, engaging, award-winning teacher. I know that he'll make the most of this opportunity to create a special experience for our students."

Strobel was one of 20 HHMI Professors chosen from 150 applications for the grants. HHMI invited nominations from the 100 research universities with outstanding track records in sending graduates to medical or graduate school for up to two faculty members to compete for the professorships. Alanna Schepartz, the Milton Harris '29 Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale, was named to an HHMI Professorship during the first round of selection in 2002.

"The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers -- not only in their research, but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching," says Thomas R. Cech, HHMI president. "We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation."

A non-profit medical research organization, HHMI was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland, is one of the largest philanthropies in the world, spending $483 million in support of biomedical research and $80 million for support of science education and other grants programs in fiscal 2005.


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Yale's Homebuyer Program extended

University putting out a welcome mat for the public on April 8

Trip to Sierra Leone offers students a lesson in power of the human spirit

Yale affiliates to team up for community service projects

Study shows conscious and unconscious memory linked . . ,

Research suggests brain compensates for aging . . .

Hartford students learn about DNA during Yale outing

Team discovers minimal nutritional 'recipe' for growing stem cells

New company will use Yale technology in treatment for varicose veins

Naltrexone may help reduce weight gain in smokers trying to quit

Identification of single pain receptor may lead to creation of new therapies.

Yale Press announces new Yale Younger Poet . . .

Conference to examine issues facing youths in the juvenile justice system

Making introductions

Lecture explores Cushing's photographic legacy

Yale Books in Brief

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