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Otago molecular biologist wins prestigious science and technology award

Blossom outside Clocktower

Thursday 11 November 2010 12:49pm

Warren Tate photo. Professor Warren Tate from the University of Otago has been awarded New Zealand’s premier science and technology honour, the 2010 Rutherford Medal.

The Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Hon Dr Wayne Mapp, presented the Royal Society of New Zealand medal to Professor Tate at this year’s Research Honours celebration event in Christchurch last night.

Professor Tate is known for his strong research mentorship of young scientists of significant potential. He says that being awarded the Rutherford Medal is a wonderful affirmation of his original aspiration.

“It has long been my ambition to contribute to the growth and evolution of New Zealand science. The award is an outstanding testimony to the contributions of more than 100 highly talented research students, many of whom now have highly successful international or national careers in science,” says Professor Tate.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Enterprise) Professor Harlene Hayne says she warmly congratulates Professor Tate.

“Professor Tate is an internationally renowned molecular biologist and an outstanding teacher, and I am delighted that he has been honoured with such a significant award. Professor Tate has been with the University of Otago since 1975 and his contribution to research excellence and research-informed teaching in biochemistry, and the wider University, has been extensive.”

The President of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Dr Garth Carnaby, says Professor Tate has had a stellar career which continues to flourish, with groundbreaking discoveries in understanding fundamental elements of cell biology.

“His work has made a huge contribution to health research with potential applications for preventing and treating HIV-1 and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

“Professor Tate’s research has revolutionised our understanding of how proteins are synthesised in living cells. This has had important implications for research looking at how proteins contribute to memory formation and neurological disease.”

“Professor Tate’s exceptional contributions extend well beyond the laboratory, with his teaching having inspired countless budding researchers.

“He has also devoted considerable energy to science policy and funding, playing a prominent role nationally and internationally.”

Early in his research career Professor Tate discovered by chance a new mechanism for gene regulation, leading to a study of the mechanism in HIV-1 as a potential drug target.

In addition to his fundamental molecular biology research, he has been involved in a completely different research area, molecular neurobiology, looking at the molecular mechanisms of neurological diseases, along with neuroscience colleagues and close collaborators from Otago, Professor Cliff Abraham and Dr Joanna Williams.

An interest in the molecular basis of memory has progressed to the development of brain protein fragment that can restore memory, and has potential as a therapeutic agent for Alzheimer's disease.

In very recent studies Professor Tate and his students have begun to investigate the molecular biology underlying chronic fatigue syndrome.

Professor Tate is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand and of the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry. He has been a Fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation of Germany, and an International Research Scholar of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute of the United States. As part of the Rutherford Medal Professor Tate also receives $100,000 in prize money from the Government.

Background information

The Royal Society of New Zealand promotes science, technology and the humanities in schools, in industry and in society. It administers several funds for science and technology, publishes science journals, offers advice to Government, and fosters international contact and co-operation. Visit:

The Rutherford Medal was instituted in 1991 as the premier New Zealand science and technology award at the request of the New Zealand Government. The award is made by the Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand. The last ten recipients have been Professor Peter Hunter (2009), Professor David Parry (2008), Professor Richard Faull (2007), Professor Ted Baker (2006), Professor Sir Paul Callaghan (2005), Professor David Penny (2004), Professor George Petersen (2003), Professor Jeffrey Tallon (2002), Professor Sir Peter Gluckman (2001) and Professor Alan MacDiarmid (2000).

Find out more about the other four University of Otago researchers presented with awards at last night's Research Honours event.

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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