GEMS Lifetime Achievement Awardees

The GEMS Lifetime Achievement Award honors Society members for their outstanding scientific contributions and for their dedication to GEMS.  

Meaning of the GEMS Lifetime Achievement Award

By Tom Hughes, M.S., GEMS Co-Founder, Past President, and Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

The meaning of this award to me is exactly what it says it is.  It is a lifetime of achievement both scientifically and for the Society.  I was honored to receive the GEMS Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.  I was a co-founder of the Society with Tom Barfknecht in 1982, and with the help of many others in the RTP, started this grand adventure, which 33 years later, is the GEMS.  Many scientists have benefitted from the two annual meetings of the Society and many scientists have traveled to national meetings to present their data with the assistance of GEMS.  David DeMarini, who was presented this award with me at the Annual Meeting of the GEMS in 2015, helped me start the Society.  David was responsible for starting the Spring Meeting concept with an annual meeting on a specific topic (indoor air).  Corporate sponsors have greatly aided our cause through the years with their contributions and attendance at our annual meetings.  

Scientifically I have been blessed to work on major research projects such as the World Trade Center disaster, with the Penobscot Indians in Maine on their Penobscot River and their drinking water, and with West Virginia women potentially exposed to dioxins.  In addition, I have conducted research projects with over 200 scientists at the USEPA, NCI, NTP, Duke University and with Industry over the past 44 years.  Many of these scientists have become lifelong colleagues and friends. 

It has been an immense pleasure for me to serve the GEMS all these years as President three times, President-Elect, Corporate Sponsor Coordinator, Treasures and Councilor on the Board of Directors (BOD).   I have enjoyed every minute.  So much so that I am running for Councilor on the 2017 ballot after I retire on October 29, 2016!  

Please consider getting involved in GEMS.  We need YOU to be involved!

Errol Zeiger, Ph.D., received award in 1999

Biosketch:

I have an M.S. (1969) and Ph.D. (1973) in microbiology from George Washington University, and a J.D. (1991) from North Carolina Central University.  I began doing mutagenicity studies at the FDA in 1969, working with Salmonella (pre-Ames test), yeast, and Drosophila, and came to NIEHS in 1976 until retiring in December 2000.  Before retiring, I spent one year at the OECD in Paris, France, where I wrote and edited health effects Test Guidelines and Guidance Documents, and helped manage their in vivo endocrine disruptor assay validation program.  Since January 2001, I’ve been a consultant to private and government organizations in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Europe.

My career concentrated on the design and direction of laboratory validation studies of the effectiveness of short-term genetic toxicity tests and to develop standardized test protocols, and the use of these tests to predict chronic effects; the evaluation, interpretation, and integration of toxicological test data; and the study of mechanisms of chemical mutagenesis and carcinogenesis.  At NIEHS I developed and managed the NTP’s genetic toxicology testing program, and evaluated the test data.  My consulting practice has primarily been the evaluation and integration of genetox and cancer test data for human risk assessment for drugs, pesticides, and other chemicals.


I’m a member of a number of scientific societies, a charter member of GEMS, have more than 200 publications, served on a number of Editorial Boards, was Editor-in-Chief ofEnvironmental and Molecular Mutagenesis, and co-editor and contributor to the 1997Handbook of Carcinogenic Potency and Genotoxicity Databases


An Interview with Dr. Errol Zeiger

When did you first become involved with GEMS?

I am a charter member of GEMS, was on the first Board of Directors (1983-1986), and also served on the Board from 2004-2008. 

What were you doing when you first became involved with GEMS and what are you doing now?

I was at the NIEHS running the NTP’s genetox testing program and doing mutagenesis research in my in-house lab.  I was also active in the EMS at that time, having served on the Council and Executive Board and chaired, or was a member, of various committees.  I felt that there was enough interest and activity in genetic toxicity testing and research within RTP to justify and support a local society, so I enthusiastically agreed to be one of the founding members. I retired in 2000 and now do some independent consulting for industry and government organizations.  I still find GEMS to be a good forum for keeping up with the scientific advances and changing perspectives surrounding genetic toxicology.

How have you contributed to GEMS?

In addition to paying my dues on time, and serving on the Board of Directors, my wife, who was a copy editor and production editor, volunteered her time to produce the annual meeting program books for the first few years.

I’ve attended most meetings (except when I was on travel), made presentations at a few of them, worked with some program committees over the year, and encouraged people to attend GEMS meetings and participate in GEMS, including my former post-doc Amal Abu-Shakra who served in several leadership roles, including GEMS President.

However, I am most proud of the fact that, in 1985, I recommended that GEMS use some of its money to support student members to attend EMS meetings.  The Board of Directors, of which I was a member, decided to have a picnic for members and to attract new members.  However, the cost of the picnic, coupled with a very sparse attendance, told me that we could spend our money more constructively. That led to my recommendation that we use our budget to support students to attend EMS meetings. After GEMS started doing this, the other regional societies followed.

What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?

Being involved with the development, standardization, and use of genetic toxicity test protocols for identifying potential human carcinogens and germ cell mutagens from before the development of the Ames test has had the most impact on my career.

Although the early showing by Ames that bacterial mutagenicity was a highly effective predictor of carcinogenicity, hasn’t fully lived up to its potential, it has influenced and guided chemical regulation throughout the world.  It is almost ironic that a simple test in bacteria can have so great an effect on chemical innovation, development, production, and availability to the public. 

What advice do you have for early career scientists?

Become active in the local and national scientific societies in your areas of interest and make a point of getting to know the senior people in the field, and having them get to know you.  Be open to new directions in your research, including research in areas unrelated to your current direction.  My involvement with mutagenesis testing was purely serendipitous, and a fluke of being in the right place at the right time.

Publish good quality papers.  If you have trouble writing, i.e., ‘writer’s block’, seek out help, because no one will know your research if you are not able to get it written and published. 

When you attend meetings with your coworkers – socialize.  Don’t stay together in a small, impenetrable group of students or post-docs (like I’ve seen many lab groups do).  The main reason for going to these meetings is not to present your poster or short talk, but to connect with the established researchers in your field, and make them aware of your existence and research interests.  You have the rest of the year to spend time with your coworkers and have meals with them.  Use your time at meetings to get to know the more senior people in the field. Read name tags or recognize people from seeing their presentations, and go up and introduce yourself.  These are the people who could be in a position to help you get that post-doc, or new position.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I’ve been in the genetic toxicology-testing field, since before there was a genetox field, and have usually looked forward to going to work every morning.  I retired from NIEHS when, even though I enjoyed the work and the people I dealt with, I was getting a bit bored with it and wanted to try something else – consulting.  The field of genetic toxicology has been good to me, and I like to think that I have contributed to its development and advancement, and that I can still make contributions.


Michael D. Waters, Ph.D., received award in 1999

Larry Claxton, Ph.D., received award in 2010

David DeMarini, Ph.D., Fall Meeting 2015

Biography:

Dr. DeMarini was born in Peoria, Illinois, USA on May 20, 1950.  He received the B.S. (1972), M.S. (1974), and Ph.D. (1980) in Biological Sciences (genetics) at Illinois State University, Normal, IL.  From 1980-1982, he did postdoctoral research at the Biology Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Oak Ridge, TN.  He then was a Research Geneticist at the National Toxicology Program, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), RTP, NC from 1983-1984.  He began his current position as a Genetic Toxicologist at the US Environmental Protection Agency, RTP, NC in 1985.  He is also an Adjunct Professor, Deptartment of Environmental Science & Engineering, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC (1991-present).  He is past-president of the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS) and the International EMGS. He is an Editor of Mutation Research--Reviews (1998-present; impact factor 7.3) and is on the editorial boards of Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis (1984-1989; 1993-present), Genes and Environment (2006-present), and Frontiers in Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention (2011-present). He has organized conferences, symposia, and training courses internationally, and has given invited lectures at more than 130 conferences in 55 countries.  He has served on 8 WHO/IARC Monographs, chairing one of them.  He has published >170 articles and has mentored 20 graduate students and postdocs.  His research interests are molecular mechanisms of mutagenesis, mutation spectra, complex mixtures, and biomarkers of mutation in humans.  Dr. Demarini has been recognized throughout his career for his contributions, including 2 Honorary Mention, 3 Level II, 3 Level III, and 1 Level I STAA Awards from US EPA, as well as an Alumni Achievement Award (2000) and Alumni Hall of Fame (2006) from Illinois State University, and he is also a recipient of the EMGS Service Award (2004) and EMGS Alexander Hollaender Award (2011).


    An Interview with Dr. David DeMarini

    When did you first become involved with GEMS?

    I worked with Tom Hughes, Larry Claxton, and others to found GEMS in 1984; I became the Vice-president in 1987 and President in 1988.

    What were you doing when you first became involved with GEMS and what are you doing now?

    When we founded GEMS, I was completing my 2nd and final year at the NTP/NIEHS doing research with Lynn Ripley on the mutation spectra induced by topoisomerase poisons; it was an exciting time because I was learning to do cloning, probe hybridization, and DNA sequencing in 1984—very early days!  I was also working with Mike Shelby to help write the genetic toxicology and discussion sections of the NTP carcinogenesis reports.

    How have you contributed to GEMS?

    Besides helping to found and incorporate GEMS in the State of North Carolina, I served as Vice-president in 1987 and President in 1988 and helped behind the scenes for many years to organize the meetings and handle various administrative aspects of the society.  I have also brought many of my technical staff, students, and postdocs to GEMS, where they have presented their work.

    What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?

    Having served on 8 IARC panels (chairing one of them), I think that environmental mutagenesis has had an enormous impact on the ability of risk assessors, such as IARC, to do their work.  The literature from our colleagues over the past 40 years has helped IARC declare as Group 1 (known) Human Carcinogens the following agents:  Indoor Air, Outdoor Air, Cigarette Smoke, Arsenic, and Diesel Exhaust.  The mechanistic data, largely mutagenesis data, provided strong (overwhelming) support for these evaluations by IARC, and a significant portion of the mutagenesis work on these agents was done by GEMS members.  The IARC evaluations have influenced regulatory decision-making among all the WHO member nations, including the U.S.

    What advice do you have for early career scientists?

    It is incredibly important to network right from the beginning of graduate school and throughout your professional career.  Hopefully one has professors, colleagues, and even other students who can help you be connected to the people in your field.  Attendance at various meetings is a critical aspect of this.  Another important thing to do is to read widely; stay informed of developments in your field (and even unrelated fields)—you never know what information may be helpful to you as your career develops.


    Thomas J. Hughes, M.S., received award in 2015

    Biography:

    Mr. Hughes received his B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Iona College in New Rochelle, NY in 1970, and a M.S. in Microbiology with a minor in Marine Science from North Carolina State University in 1972 where he studied the degradation of crude oil and the metabolism of hydrocarbons by bacteria isolated from soil under Dr. Jerome Perry. 

    Mr. Hughes was the co-founder of GEMS in 1983.  He has served as the GEMS President three times and has been on the BOD as Councilor, Treasurer, Corporate Sponsor Coordinator and Vice President.  He was awarded the GEMS Lifetime Achievement Award at the Annual Meeting in 2015.  He has been a QA and Records Manager at the USEPA for the past 17 years and a laboratory scientist at the USEPA for five years prior to being a QA and Records Manager.  Scientifically, he was involved in the World Trade Center (WTC) research, where a 20 member Team exposed mice to dusts from the WTC immediately after the 9/11/01 disaster and in the Penobscot River Study in Maine where the water, sediment and drinking water of the Penobscot River and the fish and plants were investigate for toxicity for the Penobscot Indian Nation.


    Previous to being at the USEPA, Mr. Hughes was a Principal Investigator in two contract labs for twenty years, were he conducted GLP testing for industrial clients, and where he conducted toxicology testing for industry, NCI, EPA and NTP.  Mr. Hughes was the U.S. EPA QA Manager of the Year in 2002 and was a USEPA National Honor Award winner in 2014 for his work with the Penobscot Indians.  Even though he retired from the USEPA after 22 years in 2016, he has a great desire to continue supporting the mission of GEMS. 


    Jack B. Bishop, Ph.D., received award in 2016

    Biography:

    Dr. Bishop received his Ph.D. from Louisiana State University and embarked on a career in the federal government as a geneticist focused on mechanisms of germline mutagenesis.  Dr. Bishop came to the Research Triangle Park in 1985 after having worked for the USDA and National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) as a Research Geneticist.  At the National Toxicology Program/NIEHS, his work focused on reproductive and developmental genetic toxicology.  Dr. Bishop has been a very active member of many societies, including GEMS, the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society, Teratology Society, Society of Toxicology, and Sigma Xi.  Among his many contributions, Dr. Bishop was President of GEMS in 1998 – 1999, Treasurer of EMGS (2003 – 2007) and Treasurer of the RTP Chapter of Sigma Xi (2008 – 2014).  Dr. Bishop received the prestigious Alexander Hollaender Award from the EMGS in 2013 in recognition of his outstanding contributions in the application of the principles and techniques of environmental mutagenesis and genomics to the protection of human health.  Dr. Bishop retired in 2012 from the National Toxicology Program/NIEHS after 40 years of federal civil service.


    An Interview with Dr. Jack Bishop

    When did you first become involved with GEMS?

    I joined GEMS around 1985 when I moved to the NIEHS after 10 yrs working at the FDA’s NCTR in Jefferson, Arkansas.    

    How have you contributed to GEMS?

    I became involved in GEMS activities almost immediately after joining, serving on the Board and taking on the job of Newsletter Editor.  I regularly attended Spring and Fall Annual Meetings.  I served as Treasurer and then ran for and was elected Vice President and ultimately President of GEMS, and I have continued to serve on the Board off and on.  I have regularly and continue to urge our young investigators at the NIEHS, and elsewhere, to join and become involved with GEMS.  

    What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?

    I believe those of us who have been involved environmental mutagenesis research and its applications have, over the years, contributed substantially to the protection of Public Health by helping prevent unnecessary exposure to toxic agents in our environment. Furthermore, members of GEMS, unlike most scientific societies, come from a variety of backgrounds including government, universities, and industry, and have diverse research interest like environmentally-induced heritable reproductive and developmental effects, DNA repair and both direct and epigenetic genomic damage.  Our members are involved in seeking answers to the most basic science, mechanistic questions as well as highly practical applied regulatory issues.  This has led to a unique cross-fertilization of ideas for research collaborations and education.  I believe such activities have greatly facilitated our above noted ability to contribute to the protection of Public Health.    

    What advice do you have for early career scientists?

    You need to look for important scientific questions that need an answer and are of interest to you, find a great mentor to work under and find colleagues who share your interest that you can work with on common goals.  Of course, I recommend they get involved in a scientific society like GEMS where they can have the opportunity to present their research, improve their speaking skills and get great leadership experience.    


    John (Jef) French, Ph.D., received award in 2016

    Biography:

    John E. French, Ph.D., received his Ph.D. from North Carolina State University at Raleigh, North Carolina in Comparative Biochemistry and Molecular Toxicology.  As an investigator and staff scientist at NIH, NIEHS/NTP (Research Triangle Park. NC), he studied mechanisms of chemical and radiation toxicology and carcinogenesis using inbred, outbred, and genetically altered mouse models to screen environmental toxicants for adverse reactions and to study mechanisms of action. In addition, he has used population-based genetic models to study toxicity phenotypes. For example, panels of inbred strains with and without engineered mutations (short-term in vivo tests) as well as the randomly bred Diversity Outbred mice derived from the Collaborative Cross lines.  Using forward genetics approaches like haplotype association mapping of inbred of mice strains and linkage analysis in randomly bred populations genome wide associations were used to identify genetic sequences significantly associated with phenotypes of interest.   This approach can be used to investigate intrinsic and extrinsic factors affecting inter-individual phenotypic variation in response to toxicants using the tools of quantitative biology and reverse genetics.


    An Interview with Dr. Jef French

    When did you first become involved with GEMS?  What were you doing when you first became involved with GEMS, and what are you doing now?

    As an NIEHS investigator, I became involved with GEMS in 1991 after spending a sabbatical year at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki on a NIH USPHS work-study fellowship.  I had become interested in both in vitro and in vivo mutagenesis assays and tools and their use in identifying and estimating exposures in high-risk occupations. In Helsinki, I worked with Marja Sorsa, Hannu Norpaa, and Kirsti Husgavel-Pursiainen.  Our mutual interest morphed into investigations of mutations and mutation rates in tumors suppressor genes like TP53, which had just become to be studied. My goal was to identifying tumor suppressor gene mutations in workers exposed to asbestos and smoked tobacco.  In Helsinki, I learned to take human lung cancer (mesothelioma and squamous cell carcinoma) biopsies, primary culture cancer cells for DNA isolation and genotyping using Southern blot analysis. GEMS meetings and interactions with local and national scientists involved in mutagenicity and carcinogenicity research were instrumental in further developing my interests and research activities at the NIEHS. This work led to development of research projects in the Laboratory of Environmental Carcinogenesis and Mutagenesis with Ray Tennant and colleagues using Hras overexpression and/or Trp53 haploinsufficient (genetically altered through the introduction of random or targeted mutations into inbred or hybrid mouse and rat models for in vivo short term mutagenesis and carcinogenesis studies focusing on the mechanisms of loss or gain of function in proto-oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes. At the time, mutations in these two genes were overrepresented in human cancers likely due to environmental or occupational exposures and, thus, represented likely targets associated with increase risk for cancer. We were the first to validate and test short-term mutagenesis and carcinogenesis protocols and assays for identifying mutagenic versus non-mutagenic xenobiotics. Using the “precautionary principle” approach, we worked to develop protocols to identify potential human mutagenic carcinogens requiring in-depth investigation for establishing exposure and risk to human populations.

     Currently, I am interested in developing in vivo research models in outbred randomized populations of mice that treat toxicity, including mutagenicity as a quantitative trait.  Most disease is an outcome of the interaction between the differences in our genomes and epigenomes that affect susceptibility to toxicity and disease. Beginning in the early 2000s I became involved with the Complex Traits Consortium (now the Complex Traits Community) to aid development of population based mouse models (eight-way multiparental advanced generation intercross or MAGIC) like the Collaborative Cross and their randomized outcross relatives, the Diversity Outbred mice.  With these models we can treat chemical toxicity and mutagenicity as quantitative traits and determine the individual genetic variants of genes and their proteins (forward genetics) that contribute to the observed heritable traits without and a priori hypothesis. Once the relative genetic or epigenetic contribution is statistically determined, we can employ reverse genetics using the new tools of genetic engineering to test hypotheses and develop a better understanding of the mechanistic basis for quantitative trait loci. We recently demonstrated the power of this approach in a paper on benzene mutagenicity in DO mice in Environmental Health Perspectives in 2015. These models may better approximate the heritable traits and outcomes from exposure to mutagens and carcinogens in a manner similar to that observed in human populations.

    How have you contributed to GEMS?

    I was honored to serve as Vice-President Elect in 2008-2009 and to organize both the Spring and Fall meetings in 2009. We focused on the 1) Implications and Sources of Genome Variability and 2) Genome Structure, Genetic Traits and the Basis for Complex Diseases, respectively, in 2009.  Subsequently, I served as President of GEMS in 2009-2010. Since my term as Treasurer began in 2012 I have been fortunate to serve on the GEMS Board of Directors and observe the BOD and its members to build and invigorate this dynamic and innovative local scientific society.

    What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?

    Each era of scientific research can be landmarked to innovative new technologies and the elegant questions and answers that have followed.  I have been fortunate to observe the major advances in both testing and research. Both in vitro and in vivo screening of putative genetic toxicants have been critical to public health research as well as the developments in both DNA damage and repair mechanisms led by Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich, and Aziz Sancar, who received Nobel laureates in 2016, as well as the insertion of targeted sequences of  genetic DNA with loss or gain of function using embryonic stem cells into mice (Mario R. Capecchi, Sir Martin J. Evans,  and Oliver Smithies, 2007) that greatly influenced biology, including toxicology and genetic toxicology. I was fortunate at NIEHS/NTP to help Ray Tennant and others develop both transgenic and genetically engineered mouse models for testing and research to identify environmental toxicants and assess potential risk from human exposures.    

    What advice do you have for early career scientists?

    Be curious, follow what stimulates your interest and the questions, yes, and ask questions, lots of questions and “dig deep” into the literature – both the old and the new.

    Is there anything else that you would like to add?

    It has been my privilege to participate as a member and officer in GEMS. As a local society, we have had a great impact in the development and career focus on our next generation of leaders in the environmental sciences in RTP region, the United States, and the international community.


    RoseAnne McGee, B.S., received award in 2016

    Biography:

    Ms. RoseAnne McGee is a scientific review officer for the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) at NIEHS. As a scientific review officer, she oversees and manages functions pertaining to regulatory and procedural aspects preformed by the Scientific Review Branch, such as, recruiting potential reviewers; conducting special emphasis panels for various grant mechanisms and research and development contracts; giving instruction and guidance regarding review; and ensuring adherence to federal regulations, other regulations, authorizations, and policies.  Prior to her current role, Ms. McGee was a biology technician at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and contract research technician and research associate at Environmental Health Research and Testing (EHRT) and Novel Pharmaceutical, Inc. She joined NIEHS as a biologist in the Comparative Medicine Branch. Ms. McGee holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Zoology from North Carolina State University.


    An Interview with Ms. RoseAnne McGee

    When did you first become involved with GEMS?

    In 1984.

    What were you doing when you first became involved with GEMS and what are you doing now?

    I was a laboratory technician in Dr. Martha Moore’s laboratory at the Environmental Protection Agency, as a stay-in-school student.  I am currently a Scientific Review Officer at NIEHS.

    How have you contributed to GEMS?

    I have served as Corporate Sponsor Coordinator, Councilor, President-elect, President, and Treasurer.

    What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?

    A number of research areas supported the NIEHS had a significant impact, and will continue to inform the areas of genetic toxicology and mutagenesis. Both intramural and extramural scientists supported by the NIEHS have discovered and characterized trans-lesion synthesis polymerases (in humans and in model systems). These specialized polymerases can be error-prone, but also can accurately replicate DNA opposite DNA lesions such as UV-induced DNA damage.

    Other broad programs supported by the NIEHS include environmental epigenetics, the application of the Exposome concept, and support for new methods for detecting gene-environment interactions have the potential to significantly expand the area of genetic toxicology and risks to human health in the next decade.

    What advice do you have for early career scientists?

    Actively participate in local and regional scientific societies and organizations.  This gives you the opportunity of learning about the latest research, affords you the opportunity of networking and meeting other scientists and policy makers, may give you the opportunity of presenting your own research and prepares you for participating in national/international meetings. 

    Is there anything else that you would like to add?

    I am humbled by this award; there are so many people who have done so much more for GEMS and to be counted among them is an honor.


    Kristine L. Witt, M.S., received award in 2016

    Biography:

    Ms. Kristine Witt is the Genetic Toxicology Group Leader, Division of the National Toxicology Program/NIEHS, in Research Triangle Park, NC. Her current duties include serving as the NTP co-chair for the Tox21 Assays and Pathways Working Group (the multi-agency high throughput screening program), as well as directing the acquisition, interpretation, and presentation of genetic toxicology data in support of the NTP mission through the NTP’s genetic toxicology testing contract. She leads a Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century (Tox21) project that is using high throughput screening (HTS) assays to measure specific types of DNA damage/repair and comparing these data against data acquired in traditional genetic toxicity tests to clarify the role for HTS data in identifying potential genotoxicants. In addition to her Tox21 and contract management duties, she provides reviews, evaluations, and interpretations of genotoxicity test data for inclusion in the NTP Technical Reports. Ms. Witt also manages NIEHS translational research studies focused on cytogenetic endpoints in human populations exposed to known or suspected genotoxicants, with an emphasis on exposure risks to children.  


    Ms. Witt has authored or co-authored 70 peer-reviewed publications, and is a cited contributor on 343 NTP Technical Reports. She is an editorial board member of Mutation Research, Environmental and Genetic Toxicology and a frequent reviewer for several journals. Ms. Witt is active in the Environmental Mutagenesis and Genomics Society (EMGS), having served on Council, as chair of the Women in the EMGS Group, and on numerous committees and task forces. She has also been active in the GEMS society for the past 30 years, and in the ILSI/HESI Genetic Toxicology Technical Committee. Ms. Witt has received two NIEHS Merit Awards for her contributions to the NTP and two NIH Director’s Awards for her Tox21 work.

    An Interview with Ms. Kristine Witt

    When did you first become involved with GEMS?  

    I joined the Society in 1986.

    What were you doing when you first became involved with GEMS and what are you doing now?

    I was working part time as a genetic toxicologist in Mike Shelby's group at NIEHS, through an inter-agency agreement from Oak Ridge Associated Universities, now known as ORISE. I came into NIEHS with a strong background in clinical cytogenetics, but knowing little about genetic toxicology. Through the years, I was afforded the opportunity to learn and to participate in the work that Mike, along with Errol Zeiger and several others, were conducting. I was able to assume increasing responsibilities as the program evolved and I am now the NTP Genetic Toxicology Group Leader. 

    How have you contributed to GEMS?  

    I have contributed in several capacities to the work of the Society. I served 3 terms as a Councilor (1991 – 1994; 1998 – 2001; 2007 – 2009), I have chaired the nominations committee, and I have served on the awards committee for the past 20 years. In addition, I have served "behind the scenes" assisting several of the Presidents Elect in developing the meeting program. Since 1986, I've only missed one meeting!

    What aspect of genetic and environmental mutagenesis research and/or application has had the most impact, in your opinion?  

    Certainly the Ames test has had a powerful and durable impact on the field since its development in 1973. Testimony to its place of prominence in testing is the fact that it remains today the initial decisive assay that is conducted to evaluate mutagenic potential of all new drugs and chemical products requiring such assessments. Another critically important milestone was the development of the peripheral blood micronucleus assay. Integration of the assay into laboratory animal toxicity tests made assessment of chromosomal damage routine. Use of peripheral blood rather than bone marrow has also allowed for assessment of chromosomal damage in large human populations and has facilitated biomonitoring of human populations to evaluate the impact of potentially hazardous environmental exposures.

    What advice do you have for early career scientists?  

    Identify a good mentor and take to heart the guidance and the lessons they offer! Be willing to constantly learn and be open to new thoughts and opinions, as science is changing so rapidly that often within a year or two, previously current techniques or theories have been replaced by fresh ideas and insights. Develop the ability to work effectively in a multidisciplinary team, as science today is too complex to be conducted, or even understood, by one or even a handful of people with similar backgrounds and training. 

    P.O. Box 13475, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

    GEMS is incorporated as a non-profit scientific organization in the state of North Carolina  and with the federal government. 

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