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Clinton Names Bruce Ames for National Medal of Science

posted December 09, 1998

Bruce AmesOn Dec. 8, President Bill Clinton named nine of the nation's most renowned scientific researchers to receive the National Medal of Science, citing these Americans for "their creativity, resolve and restless spirit of innovation to ensure continued U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge."

Among the nine was Bruce Ames, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, who has made major contributions to our understanding of the biology of cancer and aging. Director of the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences Center on campus, he is interested primarily in the prevention of cancer and other degenerative diseases of aging. He turns 70 on Dec. 16.

Ames and the eight other recipients of the nation's highest scientific honor have had a wide-ranging impact on social policy, cancer research and materials science, and greatly extended knowledge of Earth and the solar system, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), which announced the awards. Their theoretical achievements also led to many practical applications.

"These are superstars in their respective fields," said Rita Colwell, NSF director. "They've contributed a lifetime of stunning discoveries. We can only recognize them with a science medal once, but we applaud them daily for their continual contributions to humankind, to the reservoir of scientific knowledge and for the impact they have on the students they mentor and educate along the way."

Including this year's recipients, the Medal of Science now has been awarded to 362 leading U.S. scientists and engineers, including 27 from UC Berkeley. Last year's winners included Harold Johnston and Darleane Hoffman, UC Berkeley emeritus chemistry professors.

Ames was cited "for changing the direction of basic and applied research on mutation, cancer and aging." He established that many cancer-causing chemicals are also mutagens, that is, they cause mutations in cells, and devised a simple, inexpensive test for environmental and natural mutagens. Commonly called the Ames test, it has been used widely in research institutes, industry and regulatory agencies around the world to screen for environmental carcinogens and mutagens and to analyze the mechanisms involved in metabolic activation of carcinogens. It has had a major influence in weeding out mutagenic chemicals before they are introduced into commerce.

He also identified the causes and effects of oxidative DNA damage and translated these findings into intelligible public policy recommendations on diet and cancer risk for the American people. Specifically, he concluded that degenerative diseases of aging, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataracts and brain dysfunction, are in good part due to oxidative damage. Dietary antioxidants, such as Vitamins C and E and carotenoids, play a major role in minimizing this damage, he argues.

During his career, Ames has tried to dispel the many myths about the causes of cancer, chief among them that trace chemicals in the environment, such as pesticide residues on food, are a significant cause of cancer. The main causes of cancer, he argues, are lifestyle factors, ranging from poor diet to smoking and lack of exercise.


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