Thursday, April 18, 2024

Four University of Iowa faculty members have been named 2023 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest general-scientific society and publisher of the journal Science.

Kevin Campbell portrait
Kevin Campbell

Iowa’s recipients are Kevin Campbell, Roy J. Carver Distinguished Professor and chair in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics in the Carver College of Medicine; Bob McMurray, F. Wendell Miller Professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Lori Wallrath, professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in the Carver College of Medicine; and Michael Feiss, professor emeritus in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the Carver College of Medicine.

Campbell was elected for “groundbreaking contributions to understanding the molecular, cellular, and physiological basis of various forms of muscular dystrophy, and on developing therapeutic strategies to treat these diseases.”

Campbell is an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the director of the NIH-funded Iowa Wellstone Muscular Dystrophy Specialized Research Center. He has been on the faculty at Iowa since 1981.

His research has focused on two main areas: the mechanism of muscular dystrophies and developing the most effective strategies to treat the disease. More specifically, his lab examines alterations in the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex that are known to cause several forms of muscular dystrophy, including those with abnormal central nervous system development and function. Researchers in the Campbell lab investigate the structure and function of the dystrophin-glycoprotein complex in skeletal, cardiac, and smooth muscle as well as nonmuscle tissues, including brain and peripheral nerve.

Bob McMurray portrait
Bob McMurray

McMurray was elected for “distinguished contributions to the psycholinguistics of speech perception, spoken word recognition, and reading, including the development of these abilities across the lifespan and in typical and atypical populations.”

For the past decade, McMurray has been at the forefront of applying the tools and theories of cognitive science to understand word recognition and language processing in different types of people. His lab has current studies tracking how children recognize and learn words, and how word recognition changes as people age. His team also has partnered with researchers in UI Health Care to study word recognition with people who have hearing loss and use cochlear implants. The results reveal an astonishing diversity to how people solve the basic problems of language.

McMurray has laboratories on campus, at UI Hospitals & Clinics, and in a research hub he established in Cedar Rapids. In these facilities, his team of undergraduates, graduate students, postdocs, and research staff employ an array of sophisticated methods—eye tracking, computational modeling, and cognitive neuroscience—to decipher how the brain processes words and language.

“The AAAS fellowship is one of the most prestigious forms of recognition in the academic community,” McMurray says. “I see dozens of names of scientists and scholars on this year’s list that I've admired since I was an undergraduate. It is humbling to be included among them and to be recognized by my peers in the field for the work we are doing.”

Lori Wallrath portrait
Lori Wallrath

Wallrath was elected for “distinguished contributions to the fields of heterochromatin function and nuclear envelope biology in development and disease.”

The nuclear envelope refers to the biological membrane structure that surrounds genomic DNA inside cells. Wallrath’s early career centered on how DNA is packaged by proteins that activate or inactivate genes, with an emphasis on gene silencing, meaning how genes can be rendered inactive.

Those studies led Wallrath to examine functions of the nuclear envelope that encompasses genomic DNA, including mutations that affect nuclear envelope proteins and cause rare types of muscular dystrophy.

Her laboratory—consisting of undergraduate students, graduate students, research assistants, and medical and postdoctoral fellows—has made discoveries on how genomic mutations cause muscle disease and identified new targets for treating patients.

“I am honored to be elected as an AAAS fellow, as it is a special recognition that comes from peers in my field,” Wallrath says. “The AAAS is an inclusive nonprofit organization that supports all aspects of science and places emphasis on integrity of scientific practices. It gives me great pride to join this cohort of scientists whose curiosity and creativity have driven new discoveries to further our understanding of chemical and biological processes and improve human health.”

Michael Feiss portrait
Michael Feiss

Feiss was elected for “distinguished contributions to the field of microbiology for how a virus, the E. coli bacteriophage lambda, packages DNA during assembly of the viral particle.”

“We ask about how a DNA virus particle is assembled,” he explains. “How is virus DNA selected for packaging into the protein shell? How does the DNA packaging motor pump the DNA strand into the protein shell?”

On being named an AAAS fellow, Feiss says, “It’s rewarding to know that the lab’s science is recognized by the scientific community. It’s a tribute to the creativity and long hours in the lab given by the wonderful students and associates over the years.”

The 2023 class of AAAS Fellows includes 502 scientists, engineers, and innovators from around the world who are recognized for their scientifically and socially distinguished achievements. Election as an AAAS fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.