UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames to receive National Medal of Science, the White House announced today

By Robert Sanders, Public Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President Clinton today 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 a restless spirit of innovation to ensure continued U.S. leadership across the frontiers of scientific knowledge."

Among the nine was Bruce N. Ames, a University of California, Berkeley, 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 at UC Berkeley, 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. Of these, 27 were at UC Berkeley. Last year's winners included Harold Johnston and Darleane Hoffman, UC Berkeley emeritus chemistry professors.

Among this year's awardees is William Julius Wilson, a professor of social policy at Harvard University's JFK School of Government, noted for his work in urban poverty and its causes; and John N. Bahcall of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey, who was a key figure in helping plan the development of the Hubble Space Telescope.

The others are Janet D. Rowley of the University of Chicago, for her research in chromosome abnormalities that opened new areas of study in different types of leukemia; John W. Cahn, a fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Md., considered the nation's intellectual leader in materials science; Eli Ruckenstein, Romanian-born professor of engineering and applied science at the State University of New York in Buffalo, a leader in advanced materials; George M. Whitesides, a Harvard chemist who made notable advances in the fabrication of ultra small structures; Cathleen S. Morawetz, a mathematics professor at New York University, who led the way to studies of new aircraft wing design; and Don L. Anderson, a geophysics professor at Caltech, who led the way to a better understanding of Earth and Earth-like planets.

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.

A native of New York City, Ames obtained his bachelor's degree in chemistry from Cornell University and his PhD in biochemistry from the California Institute of Technology.

Ames is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and was on its Commission on Life Sciences. He was formerly on the board of directors of the National Cancer Institute (National Cancer Advisory Board). He was the recipient of the most prestigious award for cancer research, the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Prize (1983); the highest award in environmental achievement, the Tyler Prize (1985); the Gold Medal Award of the American Institute of Chemists (1991); and the Glenn Foundation Award of the Gerontological Society of America (1992). In 1997, he was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize.

He has been elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Japan Cancer Association and the Academy of Toxicological Sciences. He has published more than 300 scientific articles.

The National Medal of Science was established by Congress in 1959 and is administered by the National Science Foundation. It honors individuals who have significantly advanced knowledge in the fields of behavioral and social sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, mathematics and physics. A 12-member presidential committee reviews nominations for the annual awards.

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