Dorothy Lerit to receive the 2022 Günter Blobel Early Career Award

Dorothy A. Lerit, associate professor in the Department of Cell Biology at the Emory University School of Medicine, has been named the winner of the American Society for Cell Biology’s 2022 Günter Blobel Early Career Award. She will present the talk “Understanding how and why RNAs localize to centrosomes” on Tuesday, December 6, at Cell Bio 2022 in Washington, DC.

The Günter Blobel Early Career Award is given to an outstanding life scientist who has served as an independent investigator for no more than seven years. Günter Blobel was the 1989 President of ASCB who won the 1999 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology for his discovery that proteins have intrinsic signals that govern their transport and localization in the cell.

Lerit explained that her laboratory seeks to understand how local mRNAs contribute to the regulation of centrosomes, which are organizers of the microtubule cytoskeleton.

Dorothy Lerit

“My research team aims to address which RNAs localize to centrosomes, how they get there, and what they do,” Lerit said. “This work is based on a solid foundation of prior work showing that mRNAs and ribosomes localize to centrosomes in diverse cell types. Our early work led to a pivotal contribution: the first direct evidence of RNA localization and on-site translational control contribute to centrosome functions, mitotic fidelity, and viability (Ryder, Fang, & Lerit 2020 Journal of Cell Biology).”

Her lab is also examining the role of centrosomes in establishing the germline-soma dichotomy; namely, how centrosomes facilitate formation of the primordial germ cells.

“We are also fascinated by the establishment of intracellular asymmetries,” she said. “In particular, we study mechanisms of asymmetric centrosome maturation within asymmetrically dividing neural stem cells.”

Lerit is keenly interested in improving mentoring strategies for trainees andminimizing unconscious bias. During the pandemic, she spearheaded and guided the selection of subjects for “Trainee Spotlight,” an online feature for Emory’s Department of Cell Biology website. Showcased trainees were recognized for their publications, independent funding, significant awards, STEM career transitions, and contributions to outreach or enhancing diversity.

“It is a tool to advocate, celebrate, and recruit diverse and talented scientists across academic ranks,” Lerit said. “My commitment to the individual successes of my group of diverse trainees is reflected by their independent funding, authorships in respected journals, continuation in STEM careers, and national recognition. I also served on 15 PhD thesis committees, providing individualized mentorship and advocacy to our diverse trainees. I am devoted to trainee success, and I recognize this success is not one size fits all.”

Lerit also serves on graduate admissions committees and writes nomination letters for competitive internal fellowships that have garnered extra funding and accolades for ~25% of her graduate program’s most competitive, diverse applicants.

“These fellowships serve as valuable recruitment tools.” Lerit said.

In 2020, the Emory School of Medicine presented Lerit with its Hidden Gem Award for her efforts to increase diversity and inclusion in the department.The chair of her department also nominated her based on her service on the faculty search committees and her development of the Trainee Spotlight feature.

“Having a seat at the table and colleagues receptive to my perspective has allowed us to successfully recruit three female tenure-track faculty, each from different ethnic backgrounds,” Lerit said.

About the Author:

Mary Spiro is ASCB's Strategic Communications Manager.