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Vicki Lundblad elected to National Academy of Sciences

From left: Beverly Emerson, Roger Guillemin and Vicki Lundblad

Professor Vicki Lundblad is one of 85 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) this year. The election is considered one of the highest honors accorded a U.S. scientist. Lundblad’s recognition brings the number of Salk faculty elected to the NAS to 14.

Lundblad, the Becky and Ralph S. O’Connor Chair and professor in the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory, seeks to understand how the ends of chromosomes determine how many times a cell can divide. Her early work showed that these chromosome ends, called telomeres, act as a cellular timekeeper by shortening with each cell division. Fortunately, there is a way around this countdown: an enzyme called telomerase rebuilds these eroding telomeres and allows cells to divide indefinitely.

Lundblad’s group pioneered the discovery of the key subunits that make up this telomerase enzyme, using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae–the same yeast used to make wine and bread–as their experimental system. This simple single-celled organism has also allowed Lundblad and her colleagues to subsequently uncover numerous insights about what dictates when and where telomerase acts inside the cell.