Joan Steitz has been a leader in the field of RNA biology for a generation, from her graduate work on the structure and function of RNA in RNA-containing bacterial viruses (bacteriophages), to the discovery of the role of small nuclear and nucleolar ribonucleoprotein particles (snRNPs and snoRNPs) in RNA processing, and the discovery of a rare mRNA processing pathway. She has worked with many different biological systems, from bacterial viruses to unicellular eukaryotes, to other eukaryotic model organisms, to mammalian systems including human to address key questions about fundamental biological questions. Her enthusiasm for scientific research has been influential in the education, training, and mentoring of numerous students and postdoctoral fellows, particularly women, many who have gone on to exceptional careers and contributions of their own.
Joan Steitz, a native of Minneapolis, Minnesota received her BS in Chemistry (1963) from Antioch College, Ohio and a PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (1967) from Harvard University, working with Nobel Prize winner Dr. James Watson. Following postdoctoral studies at the Division of Cell Biology, Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England, she joined the faculty of Yale University in the Department of Medical Biophysics and Biochemistry (1970). She became Professor (1978), Henry Ford II Professor (1992) and Sterling Professor (1998). She became an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 1986. Prof Steitz is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and holds many awards including the Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry (1976), the U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology (1982), the National Medal of Science (1986), the Novartis-Drew Award in Biomedical research (1999), the RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2004), the E.B. Wilson Medal (2005), the Rosalind E. Franklin Award for Women in Science, National Cancer Institute (2006), and many honorary doctorates.