Job Dekker receives inaugural International Award from British Biochemical Society

By Jim Fessenden

UMass Medical School Communications

April 11, 2017
  Job Dekker, PhD
 

Job Dekker, PhD

Job Dekker, PhD, has been recognized by the Biochemical Society, based in London, as the inaugural recipient of the International Award. One of 11 eminent scientists honored overall by the Biochemical Society, Dr. Dekker, Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology, and co-director of the Program in Systems Biology, was recognized for his distinguished and independent interdisciplinary research that illustrates the importance of the molecular biosciences in the advancement of life sciences research. Recipients of the International Award conduct research outside of the UK and Ireland and may be of any nationality.

“I am extremely delighted to have been selected for this award,” said Dekker. “This really honors the work of my students, postdocs, collaborators and colleagues in this field that was started to uncover how cells fold their chromosomes.”

Colin D Bingle, PhD, acting chair of the Biochemical Society award committee, said, “The Biochemical Society awards are the perfect way to honor exceptional scientists within the bioscience community. As ever, the entry criteria are tough and the standards high and the awards are a real tribute to the talent within our community.”

A pioneer in the study of the three-dimensional structure of the genome, Dekker developed the now widely used chromosome conformation technologies used to map the topography of the genome. Although DNA is comprised of a linear sequence of bases, it doesn’t exist inside the cell nucleus in a simple, straight form. More like a ball of cooked spaghetti, the genome folds and loops back on itself so it can fit inside the tight confines of the nucleus. How the genome is packed inside the nucleus is tightly controlled and varies from cell type to cell type. And each unique shape has a profound influence on which genes in a cell are turned on or turned off.

Seeking tools and technology for mapping the three-dimensional structure of the genome in detail, Dekker developed a biochemical technique for determining how DNA segments interact and are linked to one another. The result, akin to a “molecular microscope,” can be used to detect physical interactions between DNA segments. The more interactions between segments, the more closely associated in space they are, due to chromosome folding. This breakthrough discovery was the genesis of what are now termed “3C,” “5C” and “Hi-C” tools, used by researchers worldwide interested in mapping the structure and organization of chromosomes inside cells.

Since joining UMMS, Dekker has refined and enhanced the initial chromosome conformation techniques to visualize whole genomes, combining it with next-generation sequencing to create high through put versions. A member of the UMMS faculty since 2003, Dekker received his doctoral degree in biochemistry from Utrecht University in the Netherlands. He trained as a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University with Nancy Kleckner, PhD, studying chromosome structure and developing the techniques that led to the 3C technology.

Dekker was elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2014. In 2007, he was named a Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholar in Biomedical Research, and he received the 2011 Young Investigator Award from the American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

The recipient of the International Award, which is new for 2018, will act as an ambassador for the Biochemical Society’s international activities. The award aims to recognize the achievements of early to mid-career scientists who are within 20 years of PhD completion. Dekker is invited to deliver a lecture at the 24th International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology/15th Federation of Asian and Oceanian Biochemists and Molecular Biologists Congress in Seoul, Korea, June 4 to 8, 2018, or at a society conference.

Related stories on UMassMedNow:
Job Dekker explains DNA organization in New York Times article
STAT: UMMS study of 3D genome may reveal ‘hidden world of folding diseases’
Job Dekker becomes seventh Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at UMass Medical School
Center for 3D Structure and Physics of the Genome established at UMMS

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