Systems and synthetic biology pioneer and Wyss Core Faculty member Pamela Silver appointed to distinguished Academy of government advisors
By Benjamin Boettner
(BOSTON) — We proudly announce that Pamela Silver, Ph.D., founding Core Faculty member of the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, and the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) is joining the ranks of the National Academy of Sciences.
The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) was founded under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 and recognizes outstanding achievements in science by election to membership. Along with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine, the NAS provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organizations.
Silver is one of the pioneers of the fields of systems and synthetic biology, and has made fundamental contributions to RNA biology, the biology of bacteria and entire microbiomes, function of the cell nucleus in higher organisms, and cancer therapeutics. As one of 120 national members and 23 international members to be recognized in 2023 for their outstanding and continuing achievements in original research, she and her newly elected peers bring the total number of NAS members to 3,091. Approximately 500 current and deceased NAS members have won Nobel Prizes.
“I am thrilled to be included in the NAS especially at this time when the importance of science is so critical to our well-being as a planet. The work of the Academy is critical to education and public understanding and I am passionate about being part of these efforts,” said Silver.
After obtaining her Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Los Angeles, Silver performed postdoctoral research at Harvard University where she shed important light on how proteins move into the cell’s nucleus. She continued this work first, as an Assistant Professor at Princeton University, and later as an Associate Professor of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology at HMS and at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI). With her HMS lab, she was one of the first to follow GFP-tagged proteins in living cells, and initiated early studies in systems biology to examine molecular interactions occurring within the cell nucleus on a whole genome scale. Around the same time, she also co-discovered molecules that interfere with the nuclear transport of proteins that formed the basis for the publicly-traded cancer therapeutics company Karyopharm Therapeutics. In 1997, Silver became Full Professor at HMS and DFCI.
In 2004, Silver was appointed one of the founding members of HMS’s Department of Systems Biology where she moved her research into the newly emerging field of synthetic biology and, in 2012, was named the Elliot T. and Onie H. Adams Professor of Biochemistry and Systems Biology. She was the first Director of the Harvard University Graduate Program in Systems Biology, entrusted with training a new generation of scientists in this vital discipline. In her work at the Department and the Wyss Institute, Silver has been building synthetic cells that act as sensors, memory devices, bio-computers, producers of high value commodities and energy derived from sun light, to create living diagnostics and therapeutics, and cellular technologies intended to enable a more sustainable future.
Her achievements were recognized with numerous awards, also including NSF Presidential Young Investigator, Established Investigator of the American Heart Association, NIH Directors Lecture, and NIH MERIT awards, as well as an Innovation award at BIO. She has been named one of the Top 20 Global Synthetic Biology Influencer and Top 300 people in the Bioeconomy, and was the Joseph Henry Lecturer at the Washington DC Philosophical Society. Silver sits on numerous advisory boards, served on multiple editorial boards of scientific journals, and is a member of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity.
Jennifer Elisseeff, Ph.D., who is a member of the Wyss Institute’s Scientific Advisory Board, was also elected to the NAS this year. Other Wyss Institute Faculty that previously have been appointed as members of the NAS include Joanna Aizenberg, Ph.D., James Collins, Ph.D., George Church, Ph.D., Jennifer Lewis, Sc. D., and David Weitz, Ph.D.