back to news May 1, 2012

Microbiologist Elected Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences

Tina Henkin, Robert W. and Estelle S. Bingham Professor of Biological Sciences, and chair, Department of Microbiology, has been elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the top honor for a US scientist. Henkin, who studies how B. subtilis regulates gene expression, is also a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received extensive honors and recognition for her work.

She joins 11 other Ohio State NAS members, including seven from the College of Arts and Sciences: Malcolm Chisholm, chemistry; David Denlinger, evolution, ecology, and organismal biology; Avner Friedman, mathematics; Ellen Mosley-Thompson, geography; Leo Paquette, chemistry emeritus; Lonnie Thompson, earth sciences; Kenneth G. Wilson, physics; and molecular genetics affiliate professor Albert de la Chapelle.

Henkin’s work with ribonucleic acid molecules (RNAs) broke new ground in the molecular biology of gene regulation in bacteria. Her research identified three previously unrecognized and unique mechanisms by which RNAs regulate gene expression. Her work in this area redrew existing boundaries in molecular biology and identified novel targets for antibiotic treatment of bacterial infections.

Henkin, who also received the University Distinguished Scholar Award, is mainly interested in the analysis of the mechanisms by which cells sense changes in their environment and transmit that information to the level of gene expression.

Using the Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis as a model system, Henkin’s research group focuses on genes involved in protein synthesis and amino acid metabolism.

They have uncovered systems in which nascent RNA transcripts act as riboswitches to directly sense physiological signals and control gene expression through RNA structural rearrangements.

Currently, they are investigating the molecular details of the leader RNA-tRNA interaction, and the structural shifts in both RNA partners that occur upon binding. They are also testing novel antibiotics for their ability to target the T box mechanism.