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Neal Devaraj Wins Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry

Jan. 25, 2019 | By Cynthia Dillon

Neal DevarajThe chairman of the American Chemical Society’s (ACS) Biological Chemistry Division, Craig Townsend, recently announced Neal Devaraj as the winner of the 2019 Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry. According to the ACS announcement, Devaraj was recognized for his “outstanding research in biological chemistry of unusual merit and independence of thought and originality.” Previous recipients with connections to UC San Diego include David Bonner (1952), Nathan Kaplan (1953), and alumnus and biotech pioneer David Goeddel (1984). 

The Devaraj Research Group confronts one of the most challenging questions in chemical biology: How can non-living matter, such as simple organic molecules, assemble to form life? The group addresses this question by synthesizing artificial cells—developing coupling reactions that drive the self-assembly, growth and reproduction of lipid vesicle assemblies—and by creating chemical tools to blueprint the structure and function of modern cells. The combined approach enables the researchers to better understand the chemistry required for biology to emerge.

Devaraj and his lab team synthesized the first artificial cell membrane that sustained continual growth by creating an artificial cell membrane that continually synthesized all components needed to form additional catalytic membranes. The Devaraj group also works to develop new tools for labeling and manipulating RNA. And, by applying earlier chemoselective lipid synthesis findings, Devaraj’s research team recently developed traceless chemistries to assemble lipid natural products from within living cells.

The Eli Lilly Award in Biological Chemistry was established in 1934. Consisting of a bronze medal and honorarium, its purpose is to stimulate fundamental research in biological chemistry by scientists not over thirty-eight years of age. The award is administered by the Division of Biological Chemistry of the ACS. It will be presented to Devaraj at the 2019 Fall ACS meeting in San Diego.