PULLMAN, Wash. — Recently, scientists working on the human genome project announced that the genome contains only 30,000 genes, instead of the expected 50,000 to 100,000 genes. The topic of this year’s Abelson Family Lecture at Washington State University is the role of alternative splicing by messenger RNA molecules in explaining the smaller-than-expected number of genes.

Geneticist Christine Guthrie, professor of biochemistry at the University of California at San Francisco and National Academy of Sciences member, will deliver the lecture, titled, “The Spliceosome is a Dynamic RNP Machine,” at 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in Todd Hall, Room 130 on the Pullman campus.

The spliceosome is the molecular machine involved in regulating such splicing and is the subject of Guthrie’s recent research. Her experiments with a simple, model organism, the budding yeast, demonstrate that the spliceosome is a highly dynamic macromolecular machine. Her work may find application in understanding embryonic development and human disease.

Guthrie is noted for key contributions to two major areas of genetic and biochemical research: the processing of transfer RNA and the role of small nuclear RNAs (snRNAs) in RNA splicing. Her discovery, characterization and genetic analysis of the yeast snRNAs have provided a unique contribution to understanding the splicing pathway.

After receiving her doctorate in genetics at the University of Wisconsin in 1970, Guthrie was a visiting scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut fur Molekulare Genetik and a postdoctoral fellow at the UW. She joined the faculty at UCSF in 1973. Her awards include a Max Planck Research Award, the Genetics Society of America Medal and a National Institutes of Health Merit Award. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, an American Cancer Society Research Professor in Molecular Genetics, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Science. She presently serves as RNA Society president.

Special guests at the lecture will include three other NAS members:

Philip Abelson was the editor of Science magazine for 22 years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in physics at WSU. In 1939 he earned a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. During the Manhattan Project, he worked in uranium separation processing, fission products identification and nuclear submarine design. He joined the Carnegie Institution in Washington, D.C., and served as its president. His work spanned several disciplines, including physics, molecular biology and geophysics. Abelson won the President’s National Medal of Science in 1985, the NAS Public Welfare Medal in 1992 and the Vannevar Bush Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Science Board in 1996. He was raised in a house that stood on the WSU campus.

John Abelson (Philip’s nephew) earned a WSU bachelor’s degree in physics in 1960 and a doctorate at Johns Hopkins University. He is now the George Beadle Professor of Biology at the California Institute of Technology and serves on the board of directors of Agouron, a pharmaceutical company that develops treatments for HIV and cancer. John is Guthrie’s husband.

James Anderson, the son of former WSU physics professor Paul Anderson, is the Philip Weld Professor of Atmospheric Chemistry at Harvard University. A Pullman High School alumnus, Anderson completed his undergraduate studies in physics at the University of Washington and received his doctorate in physics/astrogeophysics from the University of Colorado in 1970.

The Abelson Family Lecture was created in 2000 by a gift from John Abelson and Guthrie. He created the lecture endowment in honor of his family members, many of whom are closely linked to WSU.