Mon 20th April 2020

Congratulations to Dr. Chris Potter for being selected as the recipient of the 2020 Hamilton Smith Award for Innovative Research

The 2020 Hamilton Smith Award for Innovative Research

is being presented to:

Dr. Christopher Potter

Associate Professor Department of Neuroscience

Dr. Potter’s research focuses on neural mechanisms responsible for olfaction in insects. Dr. Potter and his students have developed novel molecular genetic approaches to alter gene expression and to visualize and monitor neuronal responses in insects, and they are applying these approaches to a model organism, the vinegar-fly Drosophila melanogaster, and to Anopheles gambiae, the mosquito that transmits malaria.


Hamilton Smith Award for Innovative Research 

Video on Youtube:

In 2014 the Johns Hopkins Medical School established an annual award to recognize innovative research by early career faculty members in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Sciences (IBBS). The award honors Dr. Hamilton (“Ham”) Smith, who, as a young faculty member at the Johns Hopkins Medical School, discovered sequence- specific cleavage of DNA by restriction enzymes, a discovery that initiated a revolution in molecular genetics.

Encouraging the passion and curiosity of biomedical scientists is at the core of the IBBS mission. This is especially important for young scientists at a time when each is developing his or her unique approach to questions at the forefront of biomedical research. It has long been recognized that the insight, drive, and creativity of young scientists are central to the biomedical research enterprise. In keeping with this view, a remarkable number of fundamental discoveries have come from the laboratories of young scientists at Johns Hopkins. A partial list of these discoveries includes: Pedro Cuatrecasas’s development of affinity chromatography and its application to hormone receptor purification; Mario Amzel’s and Roberto Poljak’s visualization of the three- dimensional structure of immunoglobulins; Solomon Snyder’s identification of brain receptors for opiates and other psychoactive drugs; Philip Beachy’s discovery of the Hedgehog protein and his demonstration that it acts as a master regulators of animal development; Carl Pabo’s visualization of eukaryotic transcription factors bound to their DNA targets; Carol Greider’s demonstration that telomerase is essential for stem cell maintenance; Thomas Kelly’s development of the first cell-free eukaryotic DNA replication system; Peter Agre’s discovery of aquaporins, the membrane proteins that function as water channels; Richard Huganir’s, David Linden’s, and Paul Worley’s identification of the genetic and biochemical changes that underlie synaptic plasticity; Ham Smith’s discovery of restriction enzymes; and Daniel Nathans’ application of restriction enzyme cleavage as a method for dissecting gene structure and function. 

Selection Criteria for Awardees

To encourage the spirit of scientific adventure, the Hamilton Smith Award recognizes and supports young scientists of extraordinary promise. Awardees are chosen by a committee of senior faculty members with primary appointments in IBBS Departments (Biological Chemistry, Biomedical Engineering, Biophysics and Biophysical Chemistry, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology and Genetics, Molecular and Comparative Pathobiology, Neuroscience, Pharmacology, and Physiology). The award consists of a monetary contribution from the Hamilton Smith Award Endowment Fund to be used by each recipient in support of research in his or her laboratory. All Assistant and Associate Professors with primary appointments in the IBBS are eligible to receive the award.

About Dr. Hamilton Smith

Dr. Smith is currently the Scientific Director of Synthetic Biology and Bioenergy and a Distinguished Professor at the J. Craig Venter Institute in San Diego. He received his M.D. degree from the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1956, and after a medical residency, service in the United States Navy, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan, he returned to the Johns Hopkins Medical School in 1967 as an Assistant Professor of Microbiology. In a pair of back-to-back papers published in 1970, Dr. Smith together with his student, Kent Wilcox, and postdoctoral fellow, Thomas Kelly, showed that the bacterium Haemophilus influenzae harbored an enzyme capable of recognizing and cleaving DNA at a specific sequence of bases. For the discovery of restriction enzymes and their application to problems of molecular genetics, Dr. Smith was awarded the 1978 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with his Johns Hopkins colleague Daniel Nathans and Swiss microbiologist Werner Arber.

Over the next 15 years, Dr. Smith and his students explored the biochemical basis of restriction enzyme specificity, the companion DNA modifying enzymes that protect the bacterium’s DNA from cleavage, and the unusual mechanism used by Haemophilus to acquire and assimilate DNA from the environment. In the early 1990s, Dr. Smith began a close collaboration with Dr. Craig Venter. Using an innovative DNA sequencing and assembly strategy, Drs. Smith and Venter and their colleagues at the Institute for Genome Research determined the first complete genome sequence of a free-living organism (Haemophilus influenzae), and over the next several years determined genome sequences for a wide variety of bacterial species. In 2001, Drs. Smith and Venter and their colleagues at the Celera Corporation published a draft sequence of the human genome using the same sequencing strategy. Dr. Smith’s current interest is in engineering synthetic bacterial genomes. With his colleagues at the J. Craig Venter Institute, he produced the first fully synthetic bacterial genome and showed in 2010 that it could be introduced into a living bacterium to reprogram the cell and all of its progeny.

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