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Whitehead professor Rudolf Jaenisch wins National Medal of Science

Professor Rudolf Jaenisch, a founding member of the Whitehead Institute, has been named as one of seven recipients of the 2011 National Medal of Science award. The National Medal of Science is the highest honor in the fields of science and engineering in the United States. Barack Obama named Professor Jaenisch this past Tuesday for his work on the epigenetic regulation of gene expression.

Epigenetic regulation refers to the biological processes that affect how genetic information is translated into cell structures without changing the genes themselves. This work has furthered understanding of embryonic and induced pluripotent stem (IPS) cells. IPS cells appear identical to embryonic stem cells, but they are created from adult cells so that eggs are not necessary.

The White House notified Jaenisch of his selection last week via email; he said he was “shocked and honored” when he heard, according to the MIT News Office.

However, Jaenisch refused to take all the praise for the medal, crediting his entire lab with the award.

“I’m very grateful,” he said to the News Office, “But I’m really only partly deserving of this. Any success I’ve had scientifically is due in large part to all the imaginative, hardworking people in my lab. I can’t help but feel this type of credit should be distributed more broadly. I feel it’s a team honor.”

Jaenisch, who teaches 7.31 (Current topics in Mammalian Biology) and 7.82 (Topics of Mammalian Development and Genetics) has several notable achievements, including the creation of the first transgenic mouse and the first experiment which showed that therapeutic cloning could be used to correct genetic defects in mice.

A ceremony will be held at the White House this November for the professor and the other winners to receive their awards. More information about Professor Jaenisch can be found on his faculty website at http://wi.mit.edu/
research/faculty/jaenisch.html.

—Jessica J. Pourian