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USC College’s Michael Arbib, Sarah Bottjer and Myron Goodman share honor from leading scientific society.

By Carl Marziali
December 1, 2008

USC College’s Michael Arbib, Sarah Bottjer and Myron Goodman share honor from leading scientific society.

USC College claims three of the five USC scientists named this year as fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in recognition of their outstanding contributions in science and engineering.

Michael Arbib, Sarah Bottjer and Myron Goodman of USC College, along with Terence Langdon and Aristides Requicha of the USC Viterbi School of Engineering, will be among 486 scientists honored in February at the Fellows Forum of the 2009 AAAS Annual Meeting in Chicago, Ill.

USC University Professor Michael Arbib was honored for “distinguished contributions to computational and cognitive neuroscience, development of schema theory and analyzing neural mechanisms of visuomotor coordination and their extension to language.”

Arbib, the Fletcher Jones Professor of Computer Science, also holds faculty appointments in biological sciences, biomedical engineering, electrical engineering, neuroscience and psychology. He has developed computational models of the brains of frogs, rats, monkeys and humans and led the group that developed the Neural Simulation Language, a computational tool for modeling the interactions between neurons that eventually produce behavior and thought.

He has written extensively on the relationship between the brain and language and is tracing the evolutionary path that leads to the human language-ready brain. He also has written on the philosophical and theological implications of such research.

Neurobiologist Sarah Bottjer was honored for “outstanding research in neuronal development and plasticity, showing an exemplary combination of breadth and depth.”

Her studies of the neural circuits that underlie vocal learning in songbirds have revealed basic mechanisms related to brain development, memory and behavior. Bottjer’s work has helped to explain how the brain controls and produces behaviors and how early experience affects brain development. Her research provides a model for understanding speech development in children as well as for treating vocal communication disorders.

Myron Goodman, professor of biological sciences and chemistry and head of molecular and computational biology, was honored for “distinguished contributions to biological sciences by studies on biochemical mutagenesis and DNA repair, including discovery of an ‘error-prone’ DNA polymerase.”

The “error-prone” polymerase, nicknamed the “sloppier copier” after Goodman discovered it in 1999, is an enzyme that copies sections of damaged DNA. Although it can handle DNA too damaged for other copying enzymes, known as polymerases, the sloppier copier also makes a large number of mistakes.

Goodman’s work showed that many genetic mutations are self-inflicted. Cells are programmed to divide, even at the cost of taking a small mutation and making it much worse. The excess mutations, however, help a cell to compete for diminishing resources in times of stress.

More recently, Goodman and structural biologist Xiaojiang Chen of USC College have been collaborating on anti-HIV enzyme studies, the most recent of which appeared this fall in the journal Nature.

The tradition of AAAS fellows began in 1874. Members are considered for the rank of fellow if nominated by the steering group of their respective sections, by three fellows or by the association’s chief executive officer. The AAAS council votes on the final list.

AAAS is the world’s largest general scientific society and publisher of the prestigious journal Science. The society was founded in 1848 and includes more than 250 affiliated societies and academies of science serving 10 million individuals.