2023 O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences: Erez Lieberman Aiden, Ph.D.
World-leading biophysical scientist Erez Lieberman Aiden, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine, is the recipient of the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Award in Physical Sciences from TAMEST. He was chosen for dramatically impacting the understanding of genomic 3D structures and the role and processes of the human genome.
Dr. Aiden’s research looks at the physical architecture of the human genome, which is over two meters long and folds up to fit inside a microscopic cell nucleus, and studies how the folding process is tied to governing gene regulation and how cells function.
The human body holds approximately 20,000 genes, or recipes for the proteins that direct all the processes that make up the human body. However, the majority of the genome is made up of “dark matter,” without protein-code information, where loops and folds are hidden that can control the expression of genes. Dr. Aiden and his collaborators have created a series of methods to map and modify the looping and folding of the genome, which allows him to explore and alter how genes are turned on and off.
By understanding how the genome folds and functions, and how its dark matter can be manipulated, Dr. Aiden is providing insight into all elements of life processes. His team is currently working at Baylor College of Medicine to determine how this work can be applied to genome sequences in clinical settings and the hope is that it will eventually be used to target dark matter in the body to treat disease.
“Dr. Aiden’s research has been no less than transformative and his multidisciplinary approach to science has been key to his discoveries,” said Nominator and TAMEST 2023 Board President Brendan Lee, M.D., Ph.D. (NAM), Professor and Chair of Molecular and Human Genetics and Robert and Janice McNair Endowed Chair in Molecular and Human Genetics, Baylor College of Medicine. “He doesn’t just use genetics, he uses computation, physics and other specialties to tackle these big questions of how the human genome folds and fits inside a single cell nucleus and how manipulating that process leads to potential clinical application. The impact of this work is just unbelievable.”
Dr. Aiden is one of five Texas-based researchers receiving the TAMEST 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards. Each are chosen for their individual contributions addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.
Dr. Aiden will be recognized at the 2023 Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, May 24, 2023, and will give a presentation on his research preceding the award ceremony at the TAMEST 2023 Annual Conference: Forward Texas – Accelerating Change in Houston, Texas, at the The InterContinental Houston – Medical Center.
All are encouraged to attend the ceremony and the TAMEST Conference.
The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards annually recognize rising star Texas researchers who are addressing the essential role that science and technology play in society, and whose work meets the highest standards of exemplary professional performance, creativity and resourcefulness.
Thanks to a $1.15 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation in 2022, the O’Donnell Awards have expanded to include an additional science award. The awards now recognize recipients in the categories of Medicine, Engineering, Biological Sciences, Physical Sciences and Technology Innovation. (Previously, the TAMEST O’Donnell Awards rotated its science award between physical and biological sciences every year.)
The Edith and Peter O’Donnell Awards are made possible by the O’Donnell Awards Endowment Fund, established in 2005 through the generous support of several individuals and organizations. View a full list of supporters here.
TAMEST was co-founded in 2004 by the Honorable Kay Bailey Hutchison and Nobel Laureates Michael S. Brown, M.D., and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D. With more than 330 members and 18 member institutions, TAMEST is composed of the Texas-based members of the three National Academies (National Academy of Medicine, National Academy of Engineering and National Academy of Sciences), the Royal Society and the state’s 9 Nobel Laureates. We bring together the state’s brightest minds in medicine, engineering, science and technology to foster collaboration, and to advance research, innovation and business in Texas.
TAMEST’s unique interdisciplinary model has become an effective recruitment tool for top research and development centers across Texas. Since our founding, more than 275 TAMEST members have been inducted into the National Academies or relocated to Texas.