Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., is the Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University School of Medicine and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator.Steitz earned her BS in chemistry from Antioch College in 1963. Significant findings from her work emerged as early as 1967, when her Harvard PhD thesis with Jim Watson examined the test-tube assembly of a ribonucleic acid (RNA) bacteriophage (antibacterial virus) known as R17.
Steitz spent the next three years in postdoctoral studies at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, where she used early methods for determining the biochemical sequence of RNA to study how ribosomes know where to initiate protein synthesis on bacterial mRNAs. In 1970, she was appointed assistant professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, becoming full professor in 1978. At Yale, she established a laboratory dedicated to the study of RNA structure and function. In 1979, Steitz and her colleagues described a group of cellular particles called small nuclear ribonucleoproteins (snRNPs), a breakthrough in understanding how RNA is spliced. Subsequently, her laboratory has defined the structures and functions of other noncoding RNPs, such as those that guide the modification of ribosomal RNAs, microRNAs and several produced by transforming herpesviruses.
Steitz is an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society, National Academy of Sciences, and Institute of Medicine. Her many honors include the U.S. Steel Foundation Award in Molecular Biology (1982); National Medal of Science (1986); FASEB Excellence in Science Award (2003); RNA Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2004); Gairdner Foundation International Award (2006); Albany Medical Center Prize in Medicine and Biomedical Research (2008) [shared with Elizabeth Blackburn]; Pearl Meister Greengard Prize (2012); La grande médaille 2013 de l'Académie des sciences, Insititut de France; Foreign Member of the Royal Society of London (2014); Herbert Tabor Award, American Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2015); Biopolymers Murray Goodman Memorial Prize, American Chemical Society (2015); William Clyde DeVane Award for Teaching Excellence, Yale University (2016); Jonathan Kraft Prize for Excellence in Cancer Research (2016); ASCB Inaugural Fellow (2016); Lasker~Koshland Special Achievement Award in Medical Science, the Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation (2018); and the Wolf Prize in Medicine (shared with Lynne Maquat and Adrian Krainer). Dr. Steitz has been awarded 19 honorary degrees.