U-M chemist and biophysicist wins ‘Brilliant 10’ award from Popular Science magazine

September 15, 2011
Jim Erickson

U-M chemist Hashim M. Al-Hashimi Credit: U-M News ServiceU-M chemist Hashim M. Al-Hashimi Credit: U-M News ServiceANN ARBOR—University of Michigan chemist and biophysicist Hashim M. Al-Hashimi was named today to Popular Science magazine’s annual “Brilliant 10” list of the nation’s top young scientists.

Al-Hashimi, 37, was recognized by Popular Science for his pioneering work recording “nano-movies” of RNA and DNA, providing the first glimpses into how these tiny molecules of life “jiggle and wiggle” to carry out cellular tasks.

Al-Hashimi’s studies have redefined the iconic DNA double helix—the best-studied structure of all time—by showing that its building blocks occasionally “rock and roll,” contorting the molecule into an entirely different structural form. Most recently, Al-Hashimi and his team used individual snapshots from nano-movies to develop a new way of searching for drugs that target RNA, and they put this approach to the test in the search for anti-HIV drugs.

Using this new method, Al-Hashimi has already identified one molecule, called netilmicin, that can stop HIV replication by latching onto RNA where one of the virus’s essential proteins otherwise would.

“It is wonderful to be able to share this recognition with students and postdoctoral fellows who have worked in my group, as well as many other collaborators at U-M and other institutions,” said Al-Hashimi, the Robert L. Kuczkowski Professor of Chemistry and a professor of biophysics.

“This is also a great way to bring attention to the area of nucleic acid dynamics and to inspire further work in this growing field,” he said.

Al-Hashimi is the third U-M researcher to be named to the magazine’s annual list of brilliant researchers under 40. Jerome Lynch, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science in the College of Engineering, won in 2009. Melanie Sanford, the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Chemistry, won in 2008.

The 10th annual list will appear in the magazine’s October issue.

“Our annual ‘Brilliant 10’ feature is a testament to the importance of scientific research and a salute to the dazzling young minds driving it,” said Mark Jannot, editor-in-chief of Popular Science.

“Each year we solicit nominations from hundreds of eminent scientists and whittle the candidates down to the ones whose work really blows the tops of our heads off,” Jannot said in a statement. “Over the past 10 years, we’ve celebrated the achievements of 100 scientists who are changing the way we look at, and live in, our world, and I can’t wait to see what the next decade brings.”