Prof. Shi Yigong of Tsinghua University Wins Aminoff Prize 2014

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has dedicated the award the Gregori Aminoff Prize in Crystallography 2014 to Professor Shi Yigong, Dean of the School of Life Sciences at Tsinghua University, according to a news release by RSAS in September. Professor Shi was awarded “for his groundbreaking crystallographic studies of proteins and protein complexes that regulate programmed cell Death.”

In order for an organism to survive, its cells need to be replaced regularly; for each cell that dies a new cell has to be created. Programmed cell death (apoptosis) is thus an important mechanism for all living organisms as the amount of cells in the organism needs to be constant. Each day billions of cells die due to apoptosis and equilibrium is maintained due to the same amount of cells being born. The process of apoptosis is very carefully regulated by a large amount of pro- and anti-apoptotic proteins that interplay in a very intricate and complex manner.

Professor Shi’s crystallographic studies of the proteins that are part of the apoptotic machinery have not only resulted in the mapping of the proteins’ three-dimensional structures, but have also led to a detailed understanding of the mechanisms that regulate the system. Professor Shi has studied apoptotic mechanisms in human cells, as well as in fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) and roundworms (Caenorhabditis elegans). Professor Shi and his collaborators have mapped the complex structural foundation for the activation of pro-apoptotic caspase enzymes, i.e., the enzymes that activate cell death, and they have demonstrated the significance of a carefully regulated interplay between different proteins in the cell.

The Prize will be awarded at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’ Annual Meeting on March 31, 2014.