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Environmental Mutagen Society highlights Wilson's research

By Jeffrey Stumpf
December 2010

Wilson stands at a podium as he gives his award lecture
Wilson presented his award lecture, "Base Excision Repair and Environmental Mutagenesis," at the Oct. 26 EMS Award Banquet. In addition to his distinguished scientific career at NIEHS, Wilson carried executive responsibilities as the Institute's deputy director from 1996 to 2007 and acting director from 2007 to 2009. (Photo courtesy of Jeffrey Stumpf)

NIEHS Program Administrator Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Shaughnessy's participation in the conference was part of an NIEHS commitment to support training and career development for students and trainees. (Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

The 41st annual meeting of the Environmental Mutagen Society (EMS) ( Exit NIEHS Oct. 23-27 in Fort Worth, Texas showcased the importance of NIEHS to the environmental health community.

NIEHS Principal Investigator Samuel Wilson, M.D., head of the DNA Repair and Nucleic Acid Enzymology Group, received the group's top award for his national leadership in environmental health sciences. The society recognized Wilson's lifetime achievement for groundbreaking fundamental studies on the mechanisms and biology of base excision repair and DNA polymerases.

"I am extremely honored to receive this award from the society that very closely mirrors the range of research and outreach programs sponsored by the NIEHS/NTP," Wilson said at the award ceremony. "This is work I am very proud to have conducted at NIEHS over the past 15 years."

In addition, the conference recognized research performed in the NIEHS Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group headed by Principal Investigator Bill Copeland, Ph.D. Visiting Fellow Rajesh Kasiviswathan, Ph.D., received an EMS travel award, while the mitochondrial mutagenesis platform leader chose postdoctoral fellow Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D., to provide an abstract talk on the group's study, "Evidence That MtDNA Depletion But Not Point Mutations or Deletions Causes DNA Polymerase-related Mitochondrial Disease."

The National Toxicology Program reported on studies managed by Kristine Witt of the Biomolecular Screening Branch ( on the mutagenicity of herbal products and the genotoxicity of the chemotherapeutic agent hydroxyurea. Witt also co-authored a poster with FDA colleagues that presented an evaluation of the relationship between specific genotoxicity testing results and rodent tumor induction. 

In her role as co-chair of the Special Interest Group, Women in the EMS, Witt chaired the final plenary lecture of the meeting given by Julie Ross, Ph.D, an epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center. Ross described her work in the epidemiology of childhood cancer that makes use of interdisciplinary studies to understand and characterize the environmental and genetic factors involved in development of infant leukemias.

Funding and mentorship by NIEHS is pivotal to EMS

The EMS community is comprised of scientists from the National Toxicology Program along with the divisions of intramural and extramural research. Through its extramural research program, the NIEHS awards grants to many of the EMS members.

NIEHS Program Administrator Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D., explained, "Both the EMS and NIEHS are interested in mechanisms of mutagenesis, environmental stressors that affect epigenetic regulation, toxicant-induced effects on mitochondrial function, and the contribution of environmental exposures to human health and disease."

The extramural research program also emphasized the training and mentoring aspects of its mission at the EMS meeting. Superfund Research Program trainee Senthilkumar Perumal Kuppusamy ( Exit NIEHS from the University of Iowa earned the Alexander Hollaender Student Travel Award for outstanding research by a student from a developing country.

"A large emphasis in the EMS mission is mentoring students and helping new investigators," noted Shaughnessy. "EMS meetings have a strong educational and outreach component, including travel awards and talks for students and postdocs."

The EMS society teamed up with the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology to provide career workshops for new investigators. Shaughnessy spoke to an audience of postdocs and graduate students about receiving the funding necessary to support a research lab. "Career developmental workshops are an important resource for postdocs and new investigators seeking training support or research funding as new investigators."

Shaughnessy also talked about the role of program administration and other non-traditional careers in science. "Presenting a view of non-traditional scientific careers, including science writing, environmental law, and risk assessment is an important source of information for students and postdocs," he added.

The 2011 EMS annual meeting is scheduled for Oct. 15-19, 2011 in Montreal.

(Jeffrey Stumpf, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Molecular Genetics Mitochondrial DNA Replication Group.)

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