Stowers scientist Julia Zeitlinger awarded 2012 Hudson Prize

Julia Zeitlinger, PhD

Dr. Julia Zeitlinger, a Stowers Institute assistant investigator, has been named the recipient of the 2012 Hudson Prize by the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation. Through the Hudson Prize, the Texas-based M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation encourages early career scientists to pursue research that leads to important medical breakthroughs and treatments.

“Julia is an extremely accomplished young scientist who is not afraid to take risks and venture into uncharted territory,” said Robb Krumlauf, PhD, scientific director of the Stowers Institute. “I am delighted that the M.R. and Evelyn Hudson Foundation has presented Julia with the resources to expand her research into novel areas of investigation during a very inventive and creative period in her career.”

Zeitlinger received a one-time grant of $50,000 to take her search for the general principles that govern global gene expression in new directions. A deeper understanding of these mechanisms will help illustrate how higher organisms such as humans develop and how flaws in the regulation of genes may lead to diseases such as cancer.

Each one of our body’s trillions of cells contains the same genetic information that makes us who we are, but the details of our appearance, behavior and metabolism are determined by gene regulation. In a tightly orchestrated process, a complex network of regulatory factors governs which genes are turned on where, when and for how long.

For a long time researchers studied genes and their genetic switches one by one, but Zeitlinger decided to take it a step further. Instead of scrutinizing individual genes, she scours whole genomes to identify globally applicable rules that, one day, may allow her to predict the fate of individual cells.

Currently, Zeitlinger’s lab is exploring two main modes of gene regulation: regulation dictated by DNA sequence and regulation based on the state of chromatin—the combination of DNA with the protein molecules that provide the packaging inside the cell’s nucleus.