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January 20, 1997

UCSC graduate receives prestigious award in molecular biology

By Theobolt Leung

Rarely is an undergraduate student listed as an author in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, one of the country's leading scientific journals. Scott Seiwert, a former UCSC biology student who managed that uncommon feat, has secured yet another distinction: the prestigious 1996 Pharmacia Biotech & Science Prize for Young Scientists.

Seiwert, now a 30-year-old Ph.D. recipient, was awarded the $20,000 international prize in molecular biology for an essay explaining the significance of his doctoral work at Yale University. Seiwert's research involved trypanosomes, single-celled primitive organisms that pose a threat to world health. Trypanosomes are responsible for tropical diseases that affect 30 million people a year, such as African sleeping sickness. Seiwert demonstrated how the microorganism's RNA, a cousin of DNA, transfers genetic information.

Pharmacia Biotech and the scientific journal Science cosponsor the annual prize, which recognizes the most outstanding thesis in molecular biology from students around the world, as described in a 1,000-word essay. As part of the award, Seiwert's essay, "RNA Editing Hints of a Remarkable Diversity in Gene Expression Pathways," was published in a recent issue of Science.

Seiwert first learned about trypanosomes as an undergraduate working in the lab of Manuel Ares, an associate professor of biology at UCSC. Ares published the results of that work in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences--with Seiwert as second author. Undergraduate participation in the leading research programs of the faculty is a hallmark of UCSC education. Ares, who was himself mentored as an undergraduate at Cornell, takes pride in Seiwert's latest accomplishment. "He needed only a little discipline and focus to get started," recalls Ares, "and after that his energy and enthusiasm for science took over. It turns out he's pretty good at it."

Seiwert was a Thimann Scholar at UCSC who earned his B.S. in biochemistry and molecular biology in 1989. He won the prize while conducting his postdoctoral research at the Seattle Biomedical Research Institute. As of January 1, he moved to the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he received a fellowship to continue his work.

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