October 17, 2019

Brandeis News: Brandeis Professors Win Nobel Prize

Left to right: Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey C. Hall. Photo by Mark Lovett.

On October 2nd the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Michael Rosbash, Jeffrey Hall, and Michael Young for their research on circadian rhythms. This year’s award is especially exciting as Rosbash and Hall share a history of teaching and research in Brandeis’ biology department in addition to being the first long-term Brandeis faculty to win the Nobel Prize. Rosbash, whose research continues in the labs of the Carl J. Shapiro Science Center, is a current professor at Brandeis while Hall has retired to Maine. Young is currently on the faculty of Rockefeller University.

Rosbash and Hall met at Brandeis in the 1970s striking up a friendship over basketball. This friendship evolved into a working partnership in the biology labs researching circadian rhythms using fruit flies as a model organism. The work that won them the Nobel Prize was the discovery of molecular mechanisms that control the circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm, colloquially known as the biological clock or body clock, is the 24-hour physiological cycle that regulates certain internal processes. It plays a role in when we go to sleep, wake up, and feel hungry, as well as hormone balances and other brain activity. In 1984, Rosbash and Hall successfully sequenced the per gene which led to discovering its control over PER protein production. The per gene triggers the production of messenger RNA (mRNA) which carries information out of the cell nucleus. The information from the mRNA triggers PER protein production which peaks just before dawn and then declines until the protein is undetectable by night time. PER protein molecules then travel back into the nucleus, repress their own synthesis, and degrade. The decay causes the per gene to make mRNA, beginning the cycle over. The process was a mystery until Rosbash and Hall came along and connected the dots. Understanding the mechanisms behind the circadian rhythm has opened the door to a host of possible applications. Some mental illnesses, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, and diabetes have been linked to issues with the circadian rhythm. Rosbash and Hall’s work could potentially lead to better treatments for these diseases as well as applications in plant science and environmental science.

Both men commented on Brandeis’ unusually collaborative atmosphere which allowed for such scientific innovation. The school’s small size and interdisciplinary values encourage interaction between departments resulting in collaborations drawing from many sources. Rosbash also acknowledged the hard work, creativity, and brains of Brandeis students in his work, undergraduate as well as graduate. Brandeis students of all levels often have the opportunity to work alongside professors on ground-breaking research, a chance students at many other schools only get at the graduate level. Rosbash, who regularly hires around 12 students a year, is known around the lab as a wonderful mentor with a knack for fostering talent.

The Brandeis National Committee would like to congratulate Michael Rosbash and Jeffrey Hall on their win, and warmly thank our members for your continued support of Brandeis, its libraries, sciences, and scholarships. Your support makes it possible for students to learn from the great minds of today, such as Rosbash and Hall, and work towards the solutions of the future.

Read more about the professors in Brandeis NOW.

Read the Nobel Prize press release.

Featured Alumni: Debra Messing

Debra Messing graduated from Brandeis University in 1990 as a Theater Arts major before continuing to pursue acting at New York University. She is perhaps best known for her title role in the situational comedy Will & Grace. In the show, which aired from 1998-2006, Messing plays Grace Adler; an interior decorator living with long-time friend Will Truman (played by Eric McCormak) in New York City. The addition of their friends Karen (Megan Mullally), Jack (Sean Hayes), a clever script, and a live audience resulted in a show the country couldn’t resist tuning in to every Tuesday evening. The show was a tremendous hit despite worries at the time of cancelation due to certain themes. At the end of its eight season run the four co-stars went their separate ways and Messing moved onto other projects. Since the end of Will & Grace, Messing has acted in many productions including the show Smash, created by fellow Brandeis alumna Theresa Rebeck ’83 MFA ’86 PhD ’89, and The Mysteries of Laura. Most recently she contributed to the remake of Dirty Dancing in the role of Marjorie Houston which was released in May. Later this summer Messing will return to her roots as Grace in NBC’s revival of the groundbreaking series, due to begin airing in late September. In an interview with Haute Living Magazine Messing stated filming will begin in August in Los Angeles, “but New York is where [her] heart is.”

Though Messing has moved on from Waltham, she has never fully left Brandeis behind. In an interview with Scott Feinberg ’08 for The Hollywood Reporter about her time at Brandeis, Messing said she loved the school’s size and that “the kids were very serious about everything.” She attributes the late Ted Kazanoff, a professor in the theater department, for convincing her to pursue acting after graduation. “He is really the one who made me decide to do this for my life… I remember Ted Kazanoff got me ready for my audition for NYU for the graduate program and one of the graduate playwrights wrote my monologue.” In 2014 Messing greeted fellow alumni at an event in NYC. She said Brandeis taught her to believe in herself and her career would follow. “I knew I would work and not give up. I am a proud Brandeisian.”

In these months following graduation, Brandeis’ class of 2017 is stepping into the working world, for the first time for some. These graduates will go on to make great contributions to their fields, as Messing has done, and carry forward the lessons and inspirations Brandeis has bequeathed to them. For some of these students, Brandeis would not have been an option due to prohibitive costs. The Brandeis National Committee’s continued support of student scholarships, in addition to the libraries and scientific research, has enabled these students to chase their dreams. Join the Brandeis National Committee today to help ensure students have the resources to reach their full potential, both in the classroom and beyond.

Learn more about Debra Messing’s filmography here

Read Debra Messing’s full interview with Haute Living here

It was Paradise: Jewish Rhodes

Come join us for a tour of the Museum of Jewish Civilization exhibit: “It was Paradise: Jewish Rhodes” inside Mortensen Library, at the Henry Jack Gray Center- University of Hartford. Jewish Rhodes was a vibrant, flourishing Jewish community, known as “Small Jerusalem” until the Nazi roundup in 1944. The exhibit includes video interviews with survivors and descendants of the Rhodes Jewish community members. It begins at 10:30 AM and will be led by University of Hartford Professor Richard Freund.

On the morning of the tour, drivers must call the U of H’s Public Safety Office to register for free, on-campus parking.  Parking in Lot K. For registration and further inquiries, please contact Judy Kronick: judykron2@comcast.net

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