President Bush announced eight winners of the 2002 National Medals of Science, the nation's highest honor for lifelong achievements in science and engineering, on Wednesday (October 22). The honorees included biologists Evelyn M. Witkin, Barbara McClintock Professor Emerita at Rutgers University, and James E. Darnell Jr., Vincent Astor Professor at Rockefeller University.
The National Science Foundation, which administers the awards, cited Witkin's discoveries of how cells act to repair or resist DNA damage. "I was overwhelmed, very honored, and of course, gratified" by the medal, said Witkin, who has worked in genetics since the 1940s
In a key finding in the early 1970s, Witkin identified a way that cells respond to DNA damage by increasing their mutation rate. Although this may harm individual cells, it helps populations of them evolve to a more resistant form.
The system, called SOS response, operates when DNA damage holds up genetic replication....