Joan A Steitz PhD

Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Biographical Info

As a college student in the 1960s, Joan Steitz never imagined herself as a top-flight scientist. Certainly, she was fascinated by science. She even assisted senior scientists in laboratories at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she was befriended by James D. Watson, co-discoverer of the DNA double helix, and at the Max Planck Institute in Germany. But when it came time to choose a career path, she had never seen a female professor or head of lab. So, she never aspired to such goals.

Today, Prof. Joan Steitz is one of leading scientists in her field. Steitz is best known for her pioneering work in RNA. She and her student Michael Lerner discovered and defined the function of small ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs) in pre-messenger RNA—the earliest product of DNA transcription—and was the first to learn that these cellular complexes (snRNPs) play a key role in processing messenger RNA by excising noncoding regions and splicing together the resulting segments. Her breakthroughs into the previously mysterious splicing process have clarified the science behind the formation of proteins and other biological processes, including the intricate changes that occur as the immune system and brain develop. Steitz earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 1967. After completing postdoctoral work in Cambridge, England, she joined the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale as an assistant professor and later became an associate and full professor, as well as chair of the department.

Education & Training

Antioch College (1963)
Harvard University (1967)
Postdoctoral Fellow
Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England

Honors & Recognition

  • The Passano Foundation Young Scientist Award
    The Passano Foundation (1975)
  • Postdoctoral Mentoring Prize
    Yale University (2014)
  • The Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry
    Eli Lilly (1976)
  • Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science
    American Association for the Advancement of Science (1981)
  • D.Sc. (Hon), Lawrence University
    Lawrence University (1981)
  • U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology
    U.S. Steel Foundation (1982)
  • Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
    The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1982)
  • Member of the National Academy of Sciences
    National Academy of Sciences (1983)
  • Lee Howley, Sr. Award for Arthritis Research (shared with J.A. Hardin and M.R. Lerner),
    Lee Howley, Sr. (1983)
  • D.Sc. (Hon), University of Rochester School of Medicine
    University of Rochester (1984)
  • National Medal of Science
    The National Science Foundation (1986)
  • Member, Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering
    Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering (1986)
  • Radcliffe Graduate Society Medal for Distinguished Achievement
    Radcliffe Graduate Society (1987)
  • Associate Member, European Molecular Biology Organization
    European Molecular Biology Organization (1987)
  • Dickson Prize for Science
    Carnegie-Mellon University (1988)
  • Fritz Lipmann Lecturer, American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1989)
  • D.Sc. (Hon), Mt. Sinai School of Medicine
    Mt. Sinai School of Medicine (1989)
  • Warren Triennial Prize (co-recipient with T. R. Cech)
    Massachusetts General Hospital (1989)
  • D. Sc. (Hon), Bates College
    Bates College (1990)
  • Christopher Columbus Discovery Award in Biomedical Research
    Christopher Columbus Foundation (1992)
  • Member of the American Philosophical Society
    American Philosophical Society (1992)
  • D.Sc. (Hon), Trinity College
    Trinity College (1992)
  • D.Sc. (Hon), Harvard University
    Harvard University (1992)
  • The Eleventh Annual Keith Porter Lecturer on Cell Biology, American Society for Cell Biology
    American Society for Cell Biology (1992)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology
    American Academy of Microbiology, (1992)
  • Rebecca Rice Award for Distinguished Achievement, Antioch College Alumni Association
    Antioch College Alumni Association (1993)
  • Weizmann Women and Science Award
    American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science (1994)
  • Distinguished Service Award, Miami Bio/Technology Winter Symposium
    Miami Bio/Technology Winter Symposium (1996)
  • City of Medicine Award, Durham, NC
    City of Durham (1996)
  • Novartis-Drew Award in Biomedical Research
    Drew University (1999)
  • L’Oréal Award for Women in Science with the support of UNESCO
    L’Oréal (2001)
  • Thirty-First Annual Lewis S. Rosenstiel Award
    Rosenstiel Basic Medical Sciences Research Center (2002)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Brandeis University
    Brandeis University (2002)
  • Member Academia Europaea
    Academia Europaea (2002)
  • Honorary Member, Japanese Biochemical Society
    Japanese Biochemical Society (2002)
  • FASEB Excellence in Science Award
    Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (2003)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Brown University
    Brown University (2003)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Princeton University
    Princeton University (2003)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Watson School of Biological Sciences, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
    Watson School of Biological Sciences (2004)
  • The Howard Taylor Ricketts Award, University of Chicago
    University of Chicago (2004)
  • The Caledonian Research Foundation Prize Lectureship
    The Caledonian Research Foundation (2004)
  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh, Edinburgh and Dundee, Scotland
    The Royal Society of Edinburgh (2004)
  • The RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award
    The RNA Society (2004)
  • Doctor Honoris Causa, Paul Sabatier University, Toulouse, Fr
    Paul Sabatier University (2005)
  • Honorary Member of Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Chapter
    Phi Beta Kappa (2005)
  • Member, Institute of Medicine
    Institute of Medicine (2005)
  • E.B.Wilson Medal, American Society for Cell Biology
    American Society for Cell Biology (2005)
  • Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science, National Cancer Institute
    National Cancer Institute (2006)
  • Gairdner Foundation International Award
    Gairdner Foundation (2006)
  • Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (shared with E. Blackburn)
    Albany Medical Center (2008)
  • D.Sc (Hon), University of British Columbia
    University of British Columbia (2008)
  • Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame
    Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, (2008)
  • New York Academy of Medicine Medal for Distinguished Contributions in Biomedical Science
    New York Academy of Medicine (2008)
  • Honorary Fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine
    The New York Academy of Medicine (2009)
  • Harden Jubilee Medal, British Biochemical Society
    British Biochemical Society (2009)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Clarkson University
    Clarkson University (2009)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Albany Medical College
    Albany Medical College (2010)
  • The Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation 23rd Annual Medical Research Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research
    The Robert J. and Claire Pasarow Foundation (2011)
  • D.Sc (Hon), Columbia University
    Columbia University (2011)
  • D.Sc (Hon)
    University of Buenos Aires (2011)
  • D.Sc (Hon)
    Rockefeller University (2012)
  • Yale Scholar Award endowment, named for Joan A. Steitz
    Yale University (2012)
  • The Pearl Meister Greengard Prize
    Pearl Meister Greengard (2012)
  • Joseph Priestley Award
    Dickinson College (2013)
  • Vanderbilt Prize in Biomedical Science
    Vanderbilt University (2013)
  • EMD Millipore Alice C. Evans Award
    American Academy of Microbiology (2013)
  • La grande médaille 2013 de l''Académie des sciences
    Institut de France (2013)

Professional Service

  • Board of Scientific Counselors, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (1/1/2011)
  • Chair of Selection Committee, NAS Award in Molecular Biology (1/1/2011)
  • Chair, Scientific Advisory Committee, Rita Allen Foundation (1/1/2010)
  • ASBMB Awards Committee, ASBMB (1/1/2010)
  • Associate Editor, Journal of Cell Biology (1/1/2010)
  • Board of Managers, Jane Coffin Childs Fund (1/1/2010)
  • Biology Visiting Committee, MIT (1/1/2009)
  • Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research, National Selection Committee, Albany Medical Center (1/1/2009)
  • Board Member, Rosalind E. Franklin Society (1/1/2009)
  • External Advisory Committee, Gerstner Sloan-Kettering Cancer Biology Graduate Program (1/1/2009)
  • Selection Committee, NAS Award in Molecular Biology (1/1/2009)
  • Scientific Advisory Board, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki (1/1/2007)
  • Committee on Scientific Affairs, Rockefeller University (1/1/2007)
  • Jury Member, L’Oréal UNESCO International Prize (1/1/2007)
  • Jury Member, Wiley Prize (1/1/2004)
  • Selection Committee Member, L’Oreal Postdoctoral Fellowship (1/1/2002)
  • Member, Editorial Board, Genes and Development (1/1/1994)
  • Associate Editor, RNA (1/1/1994)
  • Member, Selection Committee, Pearl Meister Greengard Award (01/01/2013)
  • Member, The Center for HIV/RNA Studies, Scientific Advisory Board, University of Michigan (01/01/2013)
  • Member, ASBMB (01/01/2012)

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