Saba Valadkhan, a former graduate researcher at Columbia, was recently named to receive the $25,000 Young Scientist Award for her work while at the University for correctly identifying "a relic from the RNA world." Valadkhan built a vastly simplified version of a splisosome, and correctly identified which two of its 300 components would react with so-called messenger RNA to duplicate the overall function of the splisosome -- thus solving a molecular riddle that's baffled others for two decades. Scientists knew the splisosome was the molecular machine that splices pre-messenger RNAs to mature transcripts, but never which of its 300 components were involved.
Valadkhan, who is now assistant professor in the Center for RNA Molecular Biology at Case Western Reserve University, received the award during the 2005 Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world's largest general science society, which publishes Science.
" Saba's discovery was akin to finding the Holy Grail of the splicing catalysis field," said James L. Manley, Julian Clarence Levi Professor of the Life Sciences at CU, who supervised her graduate work. "Obtaining catalytic activity from purified small nuclear RNAs had been attempted many times over the years in many of the major splicing labs around the world, which underscores the significance of her accomplishments."