Yale Researcher Named W.M. Keck Foundation Distinguished Young Scholar

The W.M. Keck Foundation, a leading supporter of high impact medical research, science and engineering, has named Kevin White, an assistant professor of genetics at Yale School of Medicine, one of five grant recipients under its Young Scholars in Medical Research Program.

Under the program, each grant recipient’s sponsoring institution receives an award of up to $1 million to support the scientist’s research activities for a period of one to five years, as well as to enable the institution to purchase necessary equipment and resources to facilitate his or her ongoing study.

White’s research at Yale combines computational and experimental methods to analyze how complex networks of genes control development. Tracing how a single gene interacts with many others helps in predicting the biochemical interactions of the proteins encoded by genes in the entire network. It also helps to determine how groups of genes are controlled at the molecular level.

His laboratory is currently investigating two major types of networks, using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model genetic system. One network controls the patterning of tissues and cells while the other controls developmental timing and maturation. Many genes that control these processes encode proteins called transcription factors. These proteins influence the genetic activity of one another, as well as the activity of many other gene targets throughout the genome, forming extensive molecular networks within developing cells.

White hopes that the research in his laboratory will help to unravel the functions of many of the 15,000 genes in the Drosophila genome, and that his methods will be useful for the larger and more complex human genome. He has previously engineered approaches for studying developmental processes genome-wide using Drosophila, such as the use of DNA microarrays, which are similar to small computer chips, and allow researchers to determine the activity of all genes in the genome in parallel.

“The methods that we develop to study the transcription factor networks that control Drosophila development will help guide the even more challenging task of decoding these types of networks in the human genome,” said White. “Almost all of Drosophila genes we study have human equivalents, including many factors that are directly linked to disease. We hope that studying how the many genes and their products interact with one another to form large networks within cells will open new perspectives for biologists who study how organisms develop.”

“We also hope that by providing more complete depictions of how information flows through these cellular networks there will be many practical benefits, including stimulation of new generations of detection strategies and treatments for a wide range of human diseases linked to development,” White added. “I am extremely grateful for the Keck Foundation’s support of our work. It will enable us to test our ideas on a scale that would otherwise not have been possible.”

Begun in 1998 as a five-year, $25 million initiative, the Keck Distinguished Young Scholars program was designed to support groundbreaking research addressing the fundamental mechanisms of human disease by young investigators who exhibit extraordinary promise for independent basic biological and medical research and who demonstrate a capacity for future academic leadership.

Each applicant was nominated by his or her academic institution and then evaluated individually by the Foundation’s Medical Research staff, an outside panel of scientific expertise, and the “Young Scholars” Scientific Advisory Committee.

The committee carefully evaluated each of the program finalists and recommended the five winners. The foundation’s Board of Directors has unanimously approved the recommendations made by the Scientific Advisory Committee.

Based in Los Angeles, the W.M. Keck Foundation was established in 1954 by the late W.M. Keck, founder of the Superior Oil Co. The foundation’s grant making is focused primarily on pioneering efforts in the areas of medical research, science and engineering. The foundation also maintains a Southern California Grant Program that provides support in the areas of civic and community services with a special emphasis on children.

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Media Contact

Karen N. Peart: karen.peart@yale.edu, 203-432-1326