Robert C. Anderson Memorial Award 2005
Rupal Thazhath, a recent doctoral graduate in cellular biology, studies a little-understood mechanism that affects normal cell functions such as movement and cell division. Cells have an internal support system of filaments made of a protein called tubulin. These filaments also occur in motile, hair-like structures called cilia found in many tissues including lungs. Dr. Thazhath analyzed changes that occur in tubulin during cell division. She discovered that if tubulin does not undergo an obscure biochemical process called glycylation, a cell will not divide but may develop multiple nuclei and eventually swell grotesquely or die. She also discovered that the process of glycylation controls assembly of cilia. Many types of diseases are caused by abnormal function of cilia including polycystic kidney disease, respiratory distress and infertility. Dr. Thazhath’s discoveries — which her nominators called “stunning and unexpected” — was published in Nature Cell Biology, Molecular Biology of the Cell and The Journal of Cell Biology. She was an invited speaker at the 2003 Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology’s Ciliate Molecular Biology Conference.