Maria Barna of Stanford University is the inaugural recipient of the Elizabeth D. Hay New Investigator Award for her outstanding research in developmental biology during the early stages of her independent career. Barna has blazed a trail in the study of translational control of gene expression through ribosome specificity. She showed that a mutation in a specific ribosomal protein (RPL38) disrupted protein synthesis in a subset of Homeobox mRNAs resulting in tissue-specific patterning defects. Her group has gone on to show that regulatory elements within the 5’ untranslated regions of these Hox genes are required for this ribosome-mediated control of gene regulation. Recent work using ribosome profiling showed that key developmental pathways like Shh and Wnt are under an unexpectedly high level of translational control. Barna is also at the forefront of live imaging of development. Using single-cell real-time imaging her group beautifully showed how morphogens like SHH travel long distances in the limb bud via cytoplasmic extensions.
Barna’s independent career began in 2007 as a Sandler Fellow at the University of California, San Francisco following her graduate work in Lee Niswander’s lab at Cornell University, Weill Graduate School of Medicine. In 2013, she became an Assistant Professor at Stanford University in the Departments of Developmental Biology and Genetics. Her numerous awards include the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award, the American Society for Cell Biology Emerging Leader Prize, and the H.W. Mossman Award in Developmental Biology.
The Elizabeth D. Hay Award presentation will take place during the Awards Lectures session at the 76th SDB Annual Meeting in Minneapolis, MN on Sunday, July 16, 2017.