Joan Steitz is a leading scientist who is internationally known for her pioneering work in the world of RNA. She has made many significant contributions to our knowledge of the RNA-driven mechanisms by which proteins are synthesised, including how ribosomes — the cell’s protein factories — initiate translation of the genetic instructions encoded by messenger RNA.
Her discovery of spliceosomes, RNA–protein complexes that excise introns from precursors to messenger RNA, led to the rationalisation of how complexity in protein products is achieved from a limited number of genes. Joan’s findings on RNAs such as snoRNAs, microRNAs, and viral noncoding RNAs have opened new fields that highlight their diverse roles in the synthesis of other RNAs, and ultimately proteins.
Joan devotes considerable energy to the advancement of women in science and is herself the recipient of a L’Oréal–UNESCO Award for Women in Science. She has been awarded numerous other honours, including the US President’s National Medal of Science in 1986, and was recently recognised by Yale University for her exceptional mentorship of young researchers.