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Alice Huang Leadership Award

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Alice Huang, Senior Faculty Associate in Biology and Biological Engineering

Dr. Alice Huang, a long-time member of the Division of Biology & Biological Engineering (BBE), whose contributions to BBE, Caltech, and the greater scientific community exemplify those we seek to celebrate:  people who persistently, effectively, and without fanfare have a profoundly positive impact on the division. Dr. Huang, an accomplished virologist and scientific leader, quietly worked behind the scenes to improve our community, from her decades-long efforts to expand the hiring and equitable treatment of women to her volunteer fostering of IACUC and leadership of Bi23. This award is meant to shine a light on those who follow in her footsteps, inspiring others to make a real difference.

As a graduate student with Robert R. Wagner, in studies on vesicular stomatitis virus, Alice was the first to purify and characterize defective interfering (DI) viral particles. Her postulate that these mutants play a major role in viral pathogenesis stimulated work on many viral systems including plant viruses and led to the testing of these particles for the amelioration of viral diseases. Her postdoctoral work with David Baltimore and graduate student Martha Stampfer, on vesicular stomatitis virus (VSV) uncovered a virion-associated RNA-dependent RNA polymerase that led the way to Baltimore's discovery of reverse transcriptase. Alice's overall research focused on the molecular characterization of VSV: its viral RNA species and regulatory mechanisms during replication as well as its glycoprotein and a derivative, soluble form, shed from infected cells. She was also the first to demonstrate that RNA and DNA enveloped viruses—including leukemia viruses, herpes viruses and human immunodeficiency virus—phenotypically mix their surface glycoproteins, resulting in alterations of antigenicity and host range. These results led to the use of VSV as a vector to target specific cells. Her contributions to the early days of animal virus studies and the use of VSV as a model virus system have been widely recognized.