Developmental cell biologist, Professor Ruth Lehmann, has won the 2021 Vilcek Prize in Biomedical Science. She receives the prize for revealing the formation of germ cells—the cells that become egg and sperm cells.
When an embryo is formed, germ cells are set aside before ultimately migrating to the gonads, i.e. the testes or the ovaries, of the organism and becoming new reproductive cells. This happens over and over with each generation. The goal of Prof. Lehmann’s research is to completely dissect and understand the life cycle of germ cells in Drosophila fruit flies. Already she has uncovered critical information about the role of RNA and mitochondria in guiding and protecting the cells that ensures that reproductive abilities can be maintained and passed on.
Prof. Lehman started her academic career at the University of Tuebingen in Germany, before spending considerable time at MIT and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Since 1996, she has been based at New York University as the Chair of the Department of Cell Biology and Director of the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine. In the summer of 2020, she returned to the Whitehead Institute, this time as Director.
The prestigious prize, which comes with a $100,000 cash award, is far from Prof. Lehmann’s first. In 2018, she received the Keith R. Porter Award from the American Society of Cell Biology; in 2017, the Inaugural Klaus Sander Prize from the German Society of Developmental Biology; and she was awarded the Conklin Medal by the Society of Developmental Biology back in 2011.
The institution behind the prize, the Vilcek Foundation, aims to raise awareness of immigrant contributions to the arts and sciences in the United States, and the prizes are awarded to immigrants who have made lasting contributions to American society. (© AcademiaNet)