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UMass Amherst’s Lila Gierasch Elected to National Academy of Sciences

AMHERST — The U.S. National Academy of Sciences (NAS) announced the election of 100 new members to the academy in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research. They include Lila Gierasch, distinguished professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chemistry at UMass Amherst.

The NAS is charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. Gierasch’s research focus for decades has been protein folding — that is, how amino-acid sequence determines the three-dimensional structure of a protein. She is particularly focused on how proteins fold in the cellular environment and the role of molecular chaperones in ensuring high fidelity in the folding process.

“I am thrilled by this honor,” she said. “The recognition of one’s contributions over a career by colleagues is truly gratifying.”

Added John McCarthy, UMass Amherst provost and senior vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, “this is a richly deserved honor for one of our stellar faculty members. Lila Gierasch is part of what makes this university great.”

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a private, nonprofit society of distinguished scholars charged with providing independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology. Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. 

Gierasch’s honor is the latest in a recent series of recognitions she has earned from research peers and professional societies. Last year, for example, she received the American Chemical Society’s Ralph F. Hirschmann Award in Peptide Chemistry for “her seminal contributions to peptide structure and function, peptide models for protein folding and function, and roles of peptide and protein aggregation in disease.”

In 2016, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. That same year, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology named Gierasch editor in chief of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, the society’s flagship journal, for a five-year term.

In 2014, Gierasch was named to the National Institutes of Health Council of Councils, established to advise the NIH director on policies and activities of the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives, which includes making recommendations on research that represents important areas of emerging scientific opportunities, rising public-health challenges, or knowledge gaps that deserve special emphasis or would otherwise benefit from strategic planning and coordination.

Most recently, she was recognized for her “outstanding contributions to peptide science” by the American Peptide Society. She will formally receive its lifetime achievement honor, the Merrifield Award, at a ceremony at the society’s annual meeting in Monterey, Calif. in June.

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