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Alumnus Randy Jirtle receives 2019 Alexander Hollaender Award

By Adam Malecek, UW College of Engineering - News and Events

1 March 2019: The Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) has selected Randy L. Jirtle to receive the 2019 Alexander Hollaender Award.

The award recognizes Jirtle’s discovery that the environment can influence inheritance of phenotypic traits through epigenetic reprogramming, which is regarded as one of the most important scientific advances of the 21st century.

According to his nominators, Jirtle’s “pioneering work in epigenetics and genomic imprinting has uncovered a vast territory in which a gene represents less of an inexorable sentence and more of an access point for the environment to modify the genome. His discoveries have produced a far more complete and useful understanding of human development and diseases.”

Jirtle notes that, like himself, Alexander Hollaender earned his bachelor’s, master’s and PhD degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Jirtle earned a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering in 1970, a master’s degree in radiation biology in 1973 and a PhD in radiation biology and statistics in 1976.

“Hollaender was also one of the first scientists to provide evidence that genetic information is contained in DNA, not in proteins, as initially suspected,” Jirtle says. “Thus, it is an honor to receive the EMGS Alexander Hollaender Award for being the first to show that the fetal origins of adult disease formation does not result from changes in the genome, but rather from alterations in the epigenome—the programs that tell the genes how to function.”

The Alexander Hollaender Award recognizes outstanding contributions in the application of the principles and techniques of environmental mutagenesis to the protection of human health.

Jirtle, a professor of epigenetics in the Department of Biological Sciences at North Carolina State University and a senior scientist at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the UW-Madison College of Engineering in 2006. He will deliver the Alexander Hollaender Award plenary lecture at the EMGS Annual Meeting on Sept. 21, 2019.