The Genetics Society of America is pleased to announce the 2021 recipients of its annual awards for distinguished service in the field of genetics. The five scientists honored are recognized by their peers for their outstanding contributions to research and education. Awardees will present their work in a lecture series to be held online during 2021, dates to be announced. 

The awardees are:

Ruth Lehmann
Photo credit: Vilcek Foundation/Ian Johns Photograph

Ruth Lehmann (Whitehead Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the 2021 recipient of the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal for lifetime contributions to the field of genetics. 

Lehmann is recognized for her groundbreaking work revealing the unique biology of the specialized cells that give rise to egg and sperm. Known as germ cells, they are the only cells in the body with the power to build a new organism and transmit this potential to future generations. Lehmann’s research using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster uncovered the molecular mechanisms by which germ cells are distinguished from the other cells of the body and how they migrate into position during development of the embryo. These and other highly influential discoveries from the Lehmann lab have spawned insights into many aspects of animal development, cell migration, cell signaling, RNA regulation, genome integrity, and inheritance.

Douglas Koshland

Douglas Koshland (University of California, Berkeley) is the 2021 recipient of the Genetics Society of America Medal for outstanding contributions to the field of genetics in the last 15 years.

Koshland is recognized for his contributions to our understanding of chromosomes and genome stability. For genes to be inherited correctly, the chromosomes that bear them undergo complex acrobatics during cell division. Koshland and his colleagues helped identify the mechanisms that guide and shape dividing chromosomes during condensation (the winding-up of long chromosomes into compact, more portable structures) and cohesion (the sticking-together of old and new chromosome copies while they await sorting into separate cells). Through creative technology development and experimental ingenuity using baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), Koshland’s work has illuminated our understanding of chromosome structure, how damaged DNA is repaired, and how cells are able to tolerate stressful conditions.

Chao-ting Wu
Photo credit: Wyss Institute

Chao-ting Wu (Harvard Medical School) is the 2021 recipient of the George W. Beadle Award for outstanding contributions to the community of genetics researchers.

Wu is recognized as a leader in creating connections between geneticists and the communities they serve. As a scientist, Wu has made important advances in elucidating the relationship between 3D genome organization and genome function, inheritance, and stability. She and her colleagues have also developed technologies for genome modification, screening, and imaging, most recently enabling high-throughput super-resolution and genome-wide views of chromosomes. On top of her research, Wu has pursued a conviction that engaging the public in conversations about genetics is essential if technologies are to be applied in equitable and ethical ways. Thus, her laboratory houses the Personal Genetics Education Project (pgEd), a team of scientists, social scientists, educators, and community organizers who engage with schools, teachers, policymakers, filmmakers, communities of faith, and other groups about the impacts of genetic research.

Edward J. Smith

Edward J. Smith (Virginia Tech) is the 2021 recipient of the Elizabeth W. Jones Award for Excellence in Education.

Smith is recognized for his outstanding contributions to research training and genomics education. Alongside his distinguished research program in poultry genetics and genomics, he has dedicated much of his career to broadening participation in biomedical research and helping minoritized students thrive in scientific careers. As well as training undergraduate and graduate researchers in his comparative animal genomics lab, Smith has led two NIH-funded research education training programs at Virginia Tech designed to increase the numbers of students from underrepresented groups pursuing biomedical PhDs. To date, these efforts have resulted in 81 PhD graduates, of which 11 are now in tenure-track or tenured positions. Smith has also led experiential learning programs for K-12 students and teachers and worked tirelessly to prompt discussion and action on issues of diversity, inclusion, and bioethics in genetics.

Feng Zhang

Feng Zhang (Howard Hughes Medical Institute/Massachusetts Institute of Technology) is the 2021 recipient of the Edward Novitski Prize for creativity and intellectual ingenuity in the solution of significant problems in genetics research.

Zhang is recognized for his work developing the tools of optogenetics and genome editing. These methods are among the most powerful available for understanding biology and applying these insights to medicine and industry. As a graduate student, Zhang solved many critical problems in the development of optogenetics, which allows the control of specific neurons using light as a trigger. In his independent lab, Zhang turned to developing efficient and scalable methods for making precise changes in the genomes of living cells and organisms. His lab was the first to adapt CRISPR/Cas9 to edit mammalian genomes and has since played a leading role in improving the fidelity, efficiency, and flexibility of CRISPR-based methods, driving forward the remarkable genome editing revolution of the past decade.

Learn more about the achievements of the awardees over the coming months in the GSA Awards online lecture series and at the GSA blog Genes to Genomes

For more information on the GSA Awards and past recipients, visit The Genetics Society of America serves an international community of more than 5,000 scientists who use genetics to make new discoveries and improve lives. GSA advances the field through conferences, the journals GENETICS and G3: Genes|Genomes|Geneticsadvocacyprofessional development programs, and more.