MOLECULAR BIOLOGY: Choreographing the Suppression of Tumors

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MOLECULAR BIOLOGY: Choreographing the Suppression of Tumors

Associate Professor, City University of New York Graduate Center and Hunter College Biology Department

Education: Postdoctoral fellow, Columbia University; Ph.D., Molecular Biology, New York University; M.S., Molecular Biology, New York University; B.A., Biology (cum laude), State University of New York at Purchase

Age: 39

When Dr. Jill Bargonetti speaks about cell division, one thing is crystal clear: This is a scientist who has the soul and sensitivity of an artist.

"I think all the sciences have a strong relation to different art forms," she says. "Just consider the influence of the sciences on Picasso in the development of cubism."

And the influence cuts in the opposite direction as well, says Bargonetti, who began her college career at SUNY-Purchase as a dance major and continued dancing for many years after college with a Harlem-based troupe.

"For me, biology has always had a strong relation to choreography, with the way things are constantly dividing and moving in a beautiful dance," says Bargonetti, who has been on the Hunter College faculty since 1994.

Bargonetti's research focuses on the p53 gene, which, when healthy, has the ability to bind to particular DNA sites in a cell and suppress the growth of tumor cells. She has been working on p53 since her first postdoctoral year, and her work has won plaudits at the highest levels.

At the age of 35, for example, she won the Presidential Early Career Award and the National Science Foundation Early Career Award. She also has been recognized by the CUNY Academy for the Humanities and Sciences, and has won the New York Voice Award, in recognition of those who have significantly improved the quality of life in New York City. This year, she received the Mayor's Award, Young Investigator Category, from Mayor Rudolph Guiliani as well as the Outstanding Woman Scientist Award from the Association for Women in Science.

That's quite a list of accomplishments for a woman who confesses that following her college graduation, "I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do. …