Jon R. Lorsch is the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS). In this position, Lorsch oversees the Institute’s $2.9 billion budget, which supports basic research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. A leader in RNA biology, Lorsch studies the initiation of translation, a major step in controlling how genes are expressed. When this process goes awry, viral infection, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer can result. To dissect the mechanics of translation initiation, Lorsch and collaborators developed a yeast-based system and a wide variety of biochemical and biophysical methods. Lorsch continues this research as a tenured investigator in the NIH’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
What research are you most excited about right now, and why?
That’s a broad question! If I had to single out one area, I’d say that studies of regeneration in different organisms are extremely exciting—asking how organisms regenerate entire limbs, organs, or body plans as adults. It’s not something my lab works on, but I find it very interesting.
What do you like about working with yeast?
You can grow a lot of them, which is very helpful for a biochemist.
Is there anything about yourself or the field that made you feel like you didn’t belong in science? What would you say to early career scientists struggling with the same feeling?
I think imposter syndrome is a very common feeling that many—maybe even most—people have, and it doesn’t just happen in science. I think the main thing is to remind yourself that you do belong in science. Keep following what your passion is, and figure out how to move forward in the way that works best for you.
TAGC aims to foster collaboration between communities and disciplines. Can you give an example of a collaboration that really helped your work?
I’ve collaborated with Alan Hinnebusch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development for 20 years and continue to do so today. It has absolutely been one of the highlights of my career. Alan is a world-renowned yeast geneticist. Bridging the gap between the in vivo side using his yeast genetic expertise and the in vitro biochemistry we can do has proven extremely rewarding in terms of understanding the mechanisms involved in eukaryotic translation initiation.