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Environmental Factor, April 2012

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Wilson honored by Columbia University

By Eddy Ball

Samuel Wilson, M.D.

Wilson is a scientist who regularly publishes in high-impact journals. He is also widely regarded as a high-quality mentor of the next generation of biomedical researchers. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

NIEHS lead researcher Samuel Wilson, M.D., will present the 19th annual Granville H. Sewell Distinguished Lecture in Environmental Health April 18 at Columbia University. Wilson, who heads the DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group in the Laboratory of Structural Biology, will address “Implications of genetic toxicology in public health.”

Under his leadership, Wilson’s group has made a number of contributions over the years to the understanding of mechanisms of DNA synthesis and, in particular, synthesis by the repair enzyme DNA polymerase beta. He and his colleagues identified the kinetic mechanism of this enzyme, its primary and three-dimensional structures, and its biological role in base excision DNA repair. This DNA repair pathway protects cells against endogenous DNA lesions, including single-strand breaks.

Wilson, who served as NIEHS deputy director from 1996 to 2007 and acting director from 2007 to 2009, has received many honors for his research. Along with election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2009, Wilson has given a number of keynote and named lectures in the U.S. and abroad. He has edited several books and authored or co-authored more than 365 peer-reviewed research articles.

Joining a select group of leaders in environment health science

Inaugurated in 1993, the lecture series was established in memory of Granville Sewell, Ph.D., who directed the educational programs in environmental health sciences at Columbia for more than 20 years prior to his death in 1992. Sewell was a pioneer in global environmental health. With his background in engineering and economics, Sewell emphasized the social context for environmental problems and their remedies in projects across Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

Wilson joins a group of distinguished scientists who have been honored by the Sewell lectureship for their accomplishments in environmental science. They range from bioethicist Peter Singer, entomologist E.O. Wilson, Ph.D., and microbiologist Rita Colwell, Ph.D., to former Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Carol Browner and James Hansen, Ph.D., director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Topics have ranged from acid rain and cholera to remote global sensing and climate change.

Along with Wilson, two other Sewell lecturers have had ties to NIEHS. NIEHS grantee Kirk Smith, Ph.D., spoke in 2011 on “Cooking and Climate: The Unfinished Health Agenda of Incomplete Combustion” and, in 2000, former NIEHS Scientific Director Carl Barrett, Ph.D., explored “New Approaches to the Study of Environmental Causes of Disease.”

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