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University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., Will Receive Pitt’s Dickson Prize at Science 2011: Next Gen

PITTSBURGH, July 27, 2011  The scientist-entrepreneur who led efforts to map the first draft of the human genome as well as the complete diploid genome and to construct the first synthetic bacterium has been named this year’s recipient of the University of Pittsburgh’s Dickson Prize in Medicine.

J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., will accept Pitt School of Medicine’s most prestigious honor during Science 2011: Next Gen, a showcase of the region’s latest research in science, engineering, medicine and computation that will be held on Oct. 6 and 7 at Alumni Hall, Oakland.

“Dr. Venter’s contributions as a scientist, researcher and entrepreneur are leading us into a new era of discovery and innovation,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and dean, School of Medicine. “He is a next-generation thinker and I am delighted that he will be sharing his ideas with us in a plenary session at Science 2011.”

On Thursday, Oct. 6 at 11 a.m., Dr. Venter will deliver the Dickson Prize in Medicine Lecture.  In a talk titled “From Reading to Writing the Genetic Code,” he will describe some of his team’s best-known achievements: in 2001, they completed the first draft of the human genome, which was a composite of several individuals, and the first diploid human genome – Dr. Venter’s own – in 2007. Last year, he and his team announced that they had constructed a synthetic organism that could replicate by inserting a computer-designed genome made of non-living material into bacterial cells.

Dr. Venter is a founder and president of the J. Craig Venter Institute and founder and CEO of Synthetic Genomics Inc. After returning from service in the Vietnam War, Dr. Venter attended the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), earning a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1972 and a doctorate in pharmacology and physiology in 1975.

Other renowned researchers also will deliver plenary lectures at Science 2011:

Provost Lecture, 4 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 6

  • “The Biophysics of Protein-Ligand Binding: What is the Water Doing?” presented by George M. Whitesides, Ph.D., Harvard University. Dr. Whitesides is known for his contributions to many fields, including nanotechnology, microfabrication and microfluidics; is listed as an inventor on more than 100 patents; and has co-founded at least a dozen companies, including Genzyme. Dr. Whitesides received an A.B. from Harvard and a Ph.D. from the California Institute of Technology.

Mellon Lecture, 11 a.m., Friday, Oct. 7

  • “Host Defense Strategies presented by Ruslan Medzhitov, Ph.D., Yale University. In 1997, Dr. Medzhitov and his team identified and characterized Toll-like receptor 4, a member of a class of molecules that play a key role in the innate immune system by recognizing potential threats and tagging them for elimination. The recipient of numerous national and international scientific accolades, he received his bachelor’s degree in arts from Tashkent State University in his native Uzbekistan and his doctorate from Moscow State University in Russia.

Klaus Hofmann Lecture, 4 p.m., Friday, Oct. 7

  • “Variability, Compensation, and Modulation in Neurons and Networks presented by Eve Marder, Ph.D., Brandeis University. Dr. Marder is exploring how individual neurons interact with each other to form dynamic neural circuits and has shown that rather than being “hard-wired,” these circuits can be reconfigured, which has implications for human memory formation, motor control, behavioral plasticity and mood disorders. She received her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis and her doctorate from UCSD.

In addition to highlighting the region’s most promising biomedical research, Science 2011 will demonstrate how these projects can be a catalyst for regional economic development; foster collaboration among academic and industrial scientists; and promote the idea to the public that science can be interesting, exciting and fun.

All Science 2011 events and lectures will be free and open to the public, but registration is required. Follow this hyperlink for more information about Science 2011: Next Gen.

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