Cell cycle research earns biologist Virginia's top scientist award

02/24/04

Blacksburg, Va. -- John J. Tyson of Blacksburg, Va., University Distinguished Professor of Biology in the College of Science at Virginia Tech, has been named one of Virginia's three Outstanding Scientists of 2004, according to an announcement by Governor Mark R. Warner and Science Museum of Virginia Director Walter R.T. Witschey.

Tyson is a world leader in the newly emerging field of computational cell biology. To gain a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that control cell growth and division, Tyson and his colleagues build mathematical models of interacting genes and proteins and solve the equations on their computers. By comparing the computer simulations to a host of experimental observations, Tyson said, computational biologists provide new insights into the integrated behavior of complex regulatory systems.

This rigorous, quantitative, computational approach to molecular cell biology provides a new method to understand and ultimately to treat medical problems originating from molecular dys-regulation: for example, cancer, which is an example of too much cell growth and division, or nerve-cell regeneration, which represents too little growth and division. Pharmaceutical companies are interested in this approach as a more reliable way to predict the consequences of new drug therapies on complex cellular regulatory systems.

According to the governor's office, "Using his expertise in the dynamics of complex chemical reactions, he (Tyson) seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that control cellular decision-making, such as when cells divide or how they anticipate sunrise. Together with Dr. Bela Novak of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, Tyson builds mathematical models of genes and proteins and their chemical interactions and then simulates the changing patterns of molecular activity in time and space. These calculations can be compared with great precision to the observed behavior of living cells to determine how well the equations simulate life. The computational approach to cell biology promises to lead a major shift in scientific understanding of the molecular basis of life."

"These scientists and industrialists represent Virginia's finest contributions this year to making life better for us all," Gov. Warner said in a statement (http://www.governor.virginia.gov/Press_Policy/Releases/2004/Feb04/0220.htm). "Their expertise runs from nuclear physics to periodontics, from computational cell biology and drug design to robotic aircraft, from high-tech research and development to extraordinary community service. I'm proud of the honorees whose creativity and dedication are reflected in these awards."

Tyson earned a bachelor's degree with highest honors in chemistry from Wheaton College and his Ph.D. in chemical physics from the University of Chicago. After postdoctoral research experience at the Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in West Germany and the Institute for Biochemistry and Experimental Cancer Research at the University of Innsbruck, Austria, Tyson came to the Department of Biology at Virginia Tech in 1978. In 1996, he earned the designation University Distinguished Professor.

Tyson has been a visiting professor at the Mathematical Institute at Oxford University and in the mathematics department at the University of Utah. He has served as president of the Society for Mathematical Biology and as co-chief editor of the Journal of Theoretical Biology. He has earned numerous awards, including the Bellman Prize in Mathematical Biosciences, Virginia Tech's Alumni Award for Research Excellence, and an honorary doctoral degree from the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.

Tyson is a native of Abington, Pa.

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