Concepts familiar from grade-school algebra have broad ramifications in computer science.
Dr. Peter S. Kim, a member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research and an associate professor of biology, has won the prestigious 1994 Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry from the American Chemical Society for his pathfinding research in structural biology.
This award, announced in the February 21 issue of Chemical and Engineering News, is the second national award for Dr. Kim in the past year-he was the 1993 recipient of the National Academy of Sciences Award in Molecular Biology.
Dr. Kim, who is also an associate investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, is being honored for vital contributions in the field of protein folding. The Eli Lilly Award in biological chemistry is presented annually for "outstanding research in biological chemistry of unusual merit and of unusual independence of thought and originality."
The primary goal of Dr. Kim's research in protein folding is to understand the transfer of information from one dimension to three dimensions-how does a simple string of chemical building blocks bend and twist itself into the convoluted shape of a functional protein molecule? What are the "rules" of protein folding? The answers to these questions provide a framework for scientists seeking to create new protein molecules, including powerful vaccines and other biological products.
The Kim laboratory introduced the use of protein fragments, or peptides, to construct models of protein-folding intermediates (partially folded molecules that are very difficult to capture with conventional techniques). Using these models and other strategies, they overturned long-standing theories about the nature of the folding pathway and simplified the folding problem.
Recently, Dr. Kim received widespread recognition in both the scientific and lay press for identifying a spring-like mechanism that is a crucial weapon in the arsenal of the flu virus. This structure enables the flu virus to fuse with human cell membranes. Preliminary evidence indicates that the same mechanism also may be important in infection with HIV-the virus that causes AIDS. This mechanism could represent an important new target for antiviral drugs.
A graduate of Cornell University, Dr. Kim received his PhD degree in biochemistry from Stanford University in 1985. He came to the Whitehead Institute as a participant in the Whitehead Fellows Program and was the first recipient of the Leonard T. Skeggs, Jr., Whitehead Institute Fellowship. In 1988 he became an associate member of the Institute and an assistant professor of biology at MIT. He became an assistant investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1990, and the same year was named a Pew Scholar in the biomedical sciences. In 1992, he was named a member of the Whitehead Institute and a tenured associate professor of Biology at MIT. He was promoted to Howard Hughes associate investigator in 1993.
Dr. Kim will receive the Eli Lilly Award and a $3,000 cash prize at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society in Washington, DC, where he will chair the Eli Lilly Award Symposium entitled "Protein Folding, Function and Design."
A version of this article appeared in the March 2, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 24).