Nancy Kleckner, the Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology, has been awarded the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal by the Genetics Society of America in recognition of her many significant contributions to understanding chromosomes and the mechanisms of inheritance.
“I am delighted to have received the Thomas Hunt Morgan Medal because it is a special honor to be recognized by one’s peers,” Kleckner said. “I wish to acknowledge the members of my laboratory and our collaborators, and the training into how to do science provided by Matthew Meselson at Harvard and Ethan Signer and David Botstein at MIT.”
Established in 1981 and named in honor of Thomas Hunt Morgan, who won the Nobel Prize in 1933 for his studies of Drosophila chromosomes and their role in heredity, the medal is awarded to an individual GSA member to recognize the full body of work of an exceptional geneticist.
Widely recognized as a leader in bringing meiosis research into the modern era, Kleckner pioneered efforts to combine traditional genetic approaches with molecular biology, microscopy, physics, and modeling, techniques that have now become commonplace.
Kleckner’s lab has played a key role in elucidating the mechanism that initiates meiotic recombination, helped decipher the “strand gymnastics” of recombination, and now is beginning to provide insight into the enigmatic phenomenon of crossover interference. She has also led significant achievements in other areas, including bacterial transposition and chromosome organization.
“Nancy has made major contributions both to understanding how chromosomes work and to developing transformative methodology that has changed the way that others do science and the types of molecular and cellular events that can be observed and measured,” said Anne Villeneuve, professor of developmental biology and genetics at Stanford University.
In addition to her many scientific achievements, Kleckner is also recognized as a mentor to many graduate students and postdocs who have themselves become research leaders in their fields.
“[Her] trademark features are exceptional insight into complex biological problems; incisive and often highly innovative approaches; fearless attack on intellectual challenges few if any others could tackle; and rigorous experimentation,” said Scott Keeney, a former postdoc with Kleckner who is now a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and member of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.
Kleckner has also provided leadership within the community, including service on the GSA board of directors and on the editorial boards of various scientific journals, including the GSA journal Genetics. She helped establish the Gordon Research Conference on Meiosis, the Woods Hole Workshop on Site-Specific Recombination and Transposition, and the Keystone Symposium on Bacterial Chromosomes. She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and an elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Academy of Microbiology. In 1990, she received the GSA Medal for her early contributions to the field.