Biochemist Tu to hold Steiner medical research professorship

Dr. Benjamin Tu

Dr. Benjamin Tu, Associate Professor of Biochemistry, has been appointed to hold the Martha Steiner Professorship in Medical Research.

Dr. Tu, a W.W. Caruth, Jr. Scholar in Biomedical Research, is known for his work on the relationship between fundamental cellular processes and metabolism. Dr. Tu recently published a study in Molecular Cell that determined cellular modifications in histones – a class of proteins that package DNA – serve an unexpected metabolic function. It was long known that modification of histones with small chemical marks, a process called chromatin methylation, helps to turn genes on and off. Mutations or translocations in the protein complexes that mark histones for methylation are implicated in a variety of diseases, including cancer. The Tu laboratory identified chromatin methylation as important to the production of the amino acid cysteine, meaning methylation might be as important to metabolism as it is to gene expression and potentially opening a new area of investigation.

Dr. Tu’s research began in yeast and recently expanded to mammalian cells to understand how metabolism affects fundamental cellular processes. These mechanisms can be revealed by challenging cells under more demanding nutrient environments – a strategy that runs counter to the usual approach.

Dr. Tu earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemistry from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in biochemistry and biophysics from the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Tu joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 2007 as an Endowed Scholar.

His numerous honors include the AAAS/Science/GE Healthcare Young Scientist Regional Award, a Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, and the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research.