Professor Jean Beggs receives RNA Society 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award
Jean Beggs, Professor of Molecular Biology in the Wellcome Trust Centre for Cell Biology at the University of Edinburgh, has been honoured with the RNA Society’s 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award
This award acknowledges Jean’s innovative contributions in the field of RNA biology and was awarded at the Society’s 23rd Annual Meeting, RNA 2018, in Berkeley, California.
What is RNA?
RNA is a molecule, similar to DNA that is essential for gene expression. The coding information in a gene is copied into RNA in a process called transcription. Initially considered a “messenger” that only carries the instructions to make proteins, in recent years it has proved to be more versatile - participating in many processes within cells.
Defects in RNA functions are involved in human diseases, including heart disease, cancers and muscular dystrophies.
Splicing and transcription dynamics
Jean Beggs has a long history of innovative work combining genetic, biochemical and metabolic tools and her main research interest is a process called RNA splicing.
Many genes have their coding sequence interrupted by non-coding regions (introns) that are also initially present in the RNA copy. During RNA splicing, introns are removed from RNA to produce an uninterrupted coding sequence that is suitable for producing proteins. This process is highly conserved in all complex cells, from yeast to humans, and yeast provide a simple but powerful model system to study the splicing mechanism.
Jean identified many splicing factors in yeast, including detailed studies of the splicing factor Prp8 that when mutated causes retinitis pigmentosa, a form of blindness in humans.
From 2006 to 2009, she coordinated a European consortium, “RiboSys”, to develop more precise analyses of the dynamics of RNA metabolism.
This research produced data that illustrated how the splicing and transcription processes are coupled, happening almost simultaneously, and how changes in one affect the other.
This led to current studies in her laboratory of the complex interactions between splicing, transcription and chromatin, the structure that allows DNA to be tightly packaged into chromosomes.
This led to the new concept of “checkpoints”, proposed to connect these processes and check for errors.
One of Jean’s greatest achievements came in the 1970s, when she developed a system for highly efficient gene cloning in yeast, opening up new possibilities to perform genetic studies.
This achievement was recognised in 2003, when she was awarded the Royal Society’s Gabor Medal for her contributions, that “added a new dimension to molecular and cellular biology”.
This is the second time the RNA Society has honoured Jean; she received the Outstanding Service Award in 2005, in recognition of her service to the Society and RNA biology.
Jean is a Wellcome Trust Investigator, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, a Fellow of the Royal Society and was the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s Vice President for Life Sciences.
She held the prestigious Royal Society Darwin Trust Research Professorship until recently, and was appointed CBE in the 2006 Queen’s Birthday Honours for her services to science.
I feel very honoured to receive this Award. I have been fortunate in the talented people who have worked in my laboratory, the excellent collaborators who contributed to our achievements, and the inspiring colleagues I have the privilege to work alongside.