Dr. James Haber is to be named the 2011 Thomas Hunt Morgan medal recipient

Much like the scientist after whom this prestigious award is named,  Jim Haber has spent his scientific career asking big questions about genetics with the help of a small organism.  Instead of the humble fruit fly employed by Thomas Morgan, Jim and his students use the even humbler baker’s yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to study the complicated mechanisms of DNA recombination and repair.

Angie Brooksby (www.atelierfige.com)

Packed inside each little yeast cell is approximately 6000 genes worth of DNA, and the cell’s molecular machinery works very hard to fix any mistakes that might get incorporated into the genetic code.  Such mistakes can be caused by ultraviolet irradiation, mutagenic chemicals, and may even arise during the process of DNA replication itself.  Understanding how the yeast cell copes with these blows to its genetic integrity, as well as the consequences of mistakes gone unfixed, has been the focus of the Haber lab for over 20 years– but you don’t have to take my word for it.

In addition to recognizing purely scientific accomplishments, the Thomas Hunt Morgan medal is awarded to scientists who have proven to be excellent mentors to the students they work with.  In the spring of 2008, former students and post-docs of the Haber lab gathered at Brandeis to participate in a symposium honoring Jim’s 60th birthday, and the turn-out made clear that a sizeable amount of those who worked with Jim have either gone on to start successful labs of their own or entered into post-doctoral positions in labs of good repute.

When asked to reflect on what it’s been like to work with Jim, recent Haber lab graduate Dr. Wade Hicks answered that Jim “was a great mentor for me because he was always available to listen and talk about science.”  When further pressed against the journalistic blade and asked if Jim hosts any great parties, Wade coughed up that  “[Jim] does host the annual Halloween/pumpkin carving party that all the lab members’ kids enjoy…  What’s better than pumpkins, large knives, kids, and alcoholic beverages!?”

And finally, Jim’s eager willingness to talk about science extends beyond his lab and into the larger Life Sciences community– and likely beyond that.  Graduate students at departmental social events would be wise to chat Jim up regarding their projects– not to mention their gardens, favorite books, wine recommendations, etcetera.  In addition to being a great scientist, Jim is an all-around Good Guy.

Congratulations, Dr. Haber!

For further press see:

The Justice

Brandeis NOW

Haber elected to NAS

Brandeis Biology Professor Jim Haber has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, according to a story at Brandeis NOW. For more about Prof. Haber and his laboratory’s research accomplishments, please see the Haber Lab website.

Is my DNA fixed yet?

A broken chromosome (a double-strand DNA break) activates the DNA damage checkpoint to prevent cells from carrying out mitosis until the break has been repaired.  Repair of the break involves the modification and the removal of histone protein octamers from DNA around the break and these must be reestablished when repair is complete.  In a new paper in PNAS, Brandeis alumnus Jung-Ae Kim (Ph.D., Molecular and Cell Biology, 2008) and Professor James Haber show that when two of the major histone chaperone protein complexes (Asf1 and CAF-1) are deleted in yeast cells, their absence prevents cells from turning off the DNA damage checkpoint and hence cells stay permanently arrested.   These results suggest that cells specifically monitor the re-establishment of normal chromatin status after DNA repair.

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