Tommy Tan
Mercury Staff
4 months ago

Researcher discusses steps leading to scientific breakthroughs, achievements

Following numerous accomplishments in the scientific world, an alumnus returned to campus and gave a lecture to students and faculty on the research that led up to his achievements.

After receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2015, alumnus Aziz Sancar came back to campus to host the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics annual Clark Lecture on March 23. During the event, Sancar discussed his career path and development as a scientist. He later received the university’s first Lifetime Achievement Award during the annual Alumni Awards Gala on March 24.

Sancar graduated from UTD with a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology in 1977. During his time at the university, Sancar worked with former faculty member and researcher Claud Rupert to study DNA repair mechanisms. This research became the focus of his career and led to his Nobel Prize achievement for his work in the field.

Sancar, who credits UTD with having a strong influence on his career choice and subsequent achievements, took the first step in understanding how bacteria repair their DNA by purifying the photolyase enzyme, which repairs damage caused by exposure to UV light. He did this using cloning technology that had recently been developed at Stanford University. The process, which can now be completed in two days, took Sancar one year to complete at the time.

In addition to the photolyase enzyme purification, Sancar developed a new research technique while at UTD. The Maxicell system bombards bacterial cells with UV radiation to increase production of plasmids. These plasmids then replicate and transcribe the gene products, or proteins, they contain, allowing for numerous copies of the proteins to be made.

Sancar perfected the Maxicell technique while working as a laboratory technician at Yale before becoming a professor of biophysics and biochemistry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he completed his research in DNA repair mechanisms and earned the Nobel Prize.

“I’m glad to be home,” Sancar said during his opening statements at the Clark Lecture. “UTD is home.”