Susan Lindquist

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Susan Lindquist
Professor Susan Lindquist ForMemRS.jpg
Susan Lindquist in 2015, portrait via the Royal Society
Born Susan Lee Lindquist
(1949-06-05)June 5, 1949
Chicago, Illinois, U.S.
Died October 27, 2016(2016-10-27) (aged 67)
Nationality American
Fields Molecular biology
Alma mater
Thesis Protein and RNA synthesis induced by heat treatment in Drosophila melanogaster tissue culture cells (1976)
Doctoral advisor Matthew Meselson[1]
Known for protein folding
heat-shock proteins
Notable awards

Susan Lee Lindquist (June 5, 1949 – October 27, 2016) was a professor of biology at MIT[4][5] specializing in molecular biology, particularly the protein folding problem[1][6] within a family of molecules known as heat-shock proteins,[7][8] and prions. Lindquist was a member and former Director of the Whitehead Institute and was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2010.[9][10][11]


Although expected to become a housewife by her parents,[12] Lindquist studied microbiology at the University of Illinois as an undergraduate and received her PhD in biology from Harvard University in 1976.[13]

Research and career[edit]

Lindquist is best known for her research that provided strong evidence for a new paradigm in genetics based upon the inheritance of proteins with new, self-perpetuating shapes rather than new DNA sequences. This research provided a biochemical framework for understanding devastating neurological illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease. She is considered an expert in protein folding, which, as explained by Lindquist in the following excerpt, is an ancient, fundamental problem in biology:

"What do "mad cows", people with neurodegenerative diseases, and an unusual type of inheritance in yeast have in common? They are all experiencing the consequences of misfolded proteins. ... In humans the consequences can be deadly, leading to such devastating illnesses as Alzheimer's Disease. In one case, the misfolded protein is not only deadly to the unfortunate individual in which it has appeared, but it can apparently be passed from one individual to another under special circumstances - producing infectious neurodegenerative diseases such as mad-cow disease in cattle and Creutzfeld–Jacob Disease in humans."
--from "From Mad Cows to 'Psi-chotic' Yeast: A New Paradigm in Genetics," NAS Distinguished Leaders in Science Lecture Series, November 10, 1999.

Lindquist worked on the PSI+ element in yeast (a prion) and how it can act as a switch that hides or reveals numerous mutations throughout the genome, thus acting as an evolutionary capacitor. She also proposed that a heat shock protein, hsp90, may act in the same way, normally preventing phenotypic consequences of genetic changes, but showing all changes at once when the HSP system is overloaded, either pharmacologically or under stressful environmental conditions. Most of these variations are likely to be harmful, but a few unusual combinations may produce valuable new traits, spurring the pace of evolution. Cancer cells too have an extraordinary ability to evolve. Lindquist's lab investigates closely related evolutionary mechanisms involved in the progression of cancerous tumors and in the evolution of antibiotic-resistant fungi.

Recently,[when?] Lindquist made advances in nanotechnology, researching organic amyloid fibers capable of self-organizing into structures smaller than manufactured materials. Her group also developed a yeast “living test tube” model to study protein folding transitions in neurodegenerative diseases and to test therapeutic strategies through high-throughput screening. She is a co-founder of FoldRx, a company developing drug therapies for diseases of protein misfolding and amyloidosis.[14]

Dr. Lindquist lectured nationally and internationally on a variety of scientific topics. In June 2006, she was the inaugural guest on the "Futures in Biotech" podcast on Leo Laporte's TWiT network.[15] In 2007, she participated in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland with other MIT leaders.[16]

Dr. Lindquist served as a Professor at the University of Chicago for 23 years and then at MIT, where she taught concurrent with her Whitehead Institute appointment since 2001, and Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.[17]. She was the Albert D. Lasker Professor of Medical Sciences in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology at the University of Chicago, and the Director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research from 2001-2004 - one of the first women in the nation to lead a major independent research organization. In 2004, she resumed her research focus as an Institute Member, an associate member of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and an associate member of the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

Significant publications[edit]

Susan Lindquist

Awards and honors[edit]

Lindquist has won numerous awards and honors including:

Personal life[edit]

Lindquist was married to Edward Buckbee and has two adult daughters.[22] She died of cancer at the age 67 on October 27, 2016.


  1. ^ a b Gitschier, J. (2011). "A Flurry of Folding Problems: An Interview with Susan Lindquist". PLoS Genetics. 7 (5): e1002076. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002076. PMC 3093363free to read. PMID 21589898. 
  2. ^ a b Hopkins, N. (2008). "The 2008 Genetics Society of America Medal". Genetics. 178 (3): 1125–1128. doi:10.1534/genetics.104.017834. PMC 2278094free to read. PMID 18385104. 
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ Susan Lindquist Research Summary
  5. ^ Lindquist Lab Website
  6. ^ Kain, K. (2008). "Using yeast to understand protein folding diseases: An interview with Susan Lindquist". Disease Models and Mechanisms. 1 (1): 17–19. doi:10.1242/dmm.000810. PMC 2561974free to read. PMID 19048046. 
  7. ^ Lindquist, S. (1986). "The Heat-Shock Response". Annual Review of Biochemistry. 55: 1151–1191. doi:10.1146/ PMID 2427013. 
  8. ^ Parsell, D. A.; Lindquist, S. (1993). "The Function of Heat-Shock Proteins in Stress Tolerance: Degradation and Reactivation of Damaged Proteins". Annual Review of Genetics. 27: 437–496. doi:10.1146/ PMID 8122909. 
  9. ^ Susan Lindquist's seminars: "The Surprising World of Prion Biology"
  10. ^
  11. ^ Video of Lindquist discussing her work, from the National Science & Technology Medals Foundation
  12. ^ Gitschier, Jane. "A Flurry of Folding Problems: An Interview with Susan Lindquist". PLoS Genetics. 7 (5): e1002076. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1002076. PMC 3093363free to read. PMID 21589898. 
  13. ^ McKenzie, Susan Lee Lindquist (1976). Protein and RNA synthesis induced by heat treatment in Drosophila melanogaster tissue culture cells (PhD thesis). Harvard University. OCLC 14767508. 
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  20. ^ Valverde, Miriam (November 18, 2010). "Cambridge researcher honored at White House". The Boston Globe. 
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  22. ^ "Whitehead Institute - News - 2016 - Susan Lindquist, accomplished and beloved scientist, has died at age 67". Retrieved 2016-10-28.