Last Thursday we had the honor of hosting cell biologist Elaine Fuchs as a McClintock lecturer. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL)’s Seminar Series brings in top-notch scientists from around the world to give talks. Two of each year’s speakers are “extra-special” because they’re McClintock lecturers! In honor of Barbara McClintock, who performed ground-breaking and dogma-changing research on “jumping genes” in corn at CSHL, WiSE selects and hosts two women who are leaders in their field and advocates for female scientists. and Dr. Fuchs was the latest to join our honor roll.
Fuchs was born and raised in Illinois and earned a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois (where, in a physics class she was one of three women in a class of 200). She then earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from Princeton University, researching how bacteria make their “skin,” before taking a postdoctoral position at MIT, where she switched to studying how we make ours! And she’s kept on this tract of skin development ever since.
Fuchs became the University of Chicago biochemistry department’s first female faculty member in 1980. She moved to the Rockefeller University in 2002, and remains there today as the Rebecca C. Lancefield professor.
In her McClintock lecture, titled “Skin Cells: Coping with Stress,” she explained some of her exciting findings. Our skin contains stem cells (a type of cell that haven’t adopted a cell type fate yet) that stay quiet until called upon to become matured skin cells. This allows wounds to heal but also allows the opportunity for cancer to hijack it to grow tumors. Fuchs’ research explores the connections between normal skin growth, wound healing, and cancer and how our bodies maintain this fine balance. She’s discovered an intricate signaling network working within the niches stem cells live in, and she hopes her findings can help in the development of new cancer treatments.
In addition to this “serious” work, she shared photos from her recent trips to Tanzania, and encouraged people to have interests/hobbies outside of science, emphasizing that such “less serious” pursuits generate creativity, which is essential to the scientific endeavor – so these “non-science” activities can actually improve our science.
In addition to giving the talk, Fuchs had breakfast and dinner with WiSE-rs - one of the perks of being a McClintock lecturer, though it pales in comparison to other honors and awards she’s received including a National Medal of Science from President Obama in 2009 and a L'Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science in 2010. She is also a fellow of numerous scientific academies including the National Academy of Sciences and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) investigator. Thank you Dr. Fuchs for visiting, teaching, and inspiring us!