Emory Report
June 25, 2007
Volume 59, Number 33

Emory Report homepage  

June 25, 2007
Renowned geneticist Victor Corces to join Emory as chair of biology department

by robin tricoles

Victor Corces, a world-renowned geneticist and distinguished educator, will join Emory Sept. 1 as chair of the Department of Biology in Emory College.

Corces is currently professor of biology, chair of the biotechnology program and director of undergraduate studies at Johns Hopkins University. A Howard Hughes Medical Institute professor, Corces was one of only 20 U.S. scientists named a 2006 HHMI professor, receiving a $1 million grant to fund unique approaches to attract and inspire undergraduates in the sciences.

His latest research involves the mechanisms that control the organization of DNA within the nucleus of eukaryotic cells. Eukaryotic cells contain a nucleus, which contains the cell’s chromosomes. The organization of the DNA is important in controlling gene expression and in understanding how stem cells differentiate. Corces and his collaborators suspect that stem cells’ DNA is not organized in a recognizable way until they differentiate into a specific type of cell, such as muscle, brain or bone.

“For a long time, people have been studying how genes are regulated during development,” said Corces. “However, until recently nobody has paid attention to understanding the arrangement of DNA in the nucleus of cells and how this arrangement is important. My lab has been in the forefront of bringing this factor to light and finding ways of investigating this problem, which is very difficult. A lot of people have proposed models of organization, and the model we initially proposed was strange, but it turned out to show what is really happening,” he said.

“We are very fortunate to have Dr. Corces join us as chair of biology,” said Santa Ono, vice provost for academic initiatives and deputy to the provost. “He is a magnificent scientist and outstanding mentor. I know this firsthand from my time at Hopkins many years ago and from following his work in the literature.

“Dr. Corces will build on the current excellence of the Department of Biology both as a scientist and chairman and is sure to enhance the already strongly collaborative environment at Emory,” Ono said. The biology department will continue to make major contributions to multiple strategic themes of the University, he said, including Confronting the Human Condition and Human Experience (where the department will explore the intersection between epigenetics and human health) and Exploring New Frontiers in Science and Technology.

As an HHMI professor at Johns Hopkins, Corces established the Research Internship and Science Education
(RISE) program, aimed at attracting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to study biology. As part of the program, promising students from Baltimore public schools worked in Corces’ lab under the supervision of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows. He will continue a similar program at Emory with students from Atlanta’s public schools.

Corces is principal investigator of a National Institute of Health grant studying factors involved in the regulation of nuclear architecture. He received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Autonoma University of Madrid, where his research focused on the biochemistry of microtubule-associated proteins and the specificity of their interaction with DNA. He completed his postdoctoral work in 1982 in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Harvard University.

Corces has been a member of the Genetics Study Section and Biomedical Sciences Study Section of the NIH, and the Science and Technology Research Centers Review Panel of the National Science Foundation. Corces received the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association Excellence in Teaching Award in Arts and Sciences.
Emory’s Department of Biology includes 30 faculty, 369 undergraduates, 18 graduate students and 27 postdocs. The department’s sponsored research base for the 2006 calendar year includes $4.3 million in total grant funding.