Biologist Susan Strome receives Outstanding Faculty Award

Susan Strome
Susan Strome (Photo by C. Lagattuta)

Susan Strome, distinguished professor of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology, has received the 2014-15 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. The annual award is the division's highest honor for faculty achievement, recognizing combined excellence in research, teaching, and service.

Strome is a highly accomplished researcher who is also deeply committed to teaching and to developing more effective teaching strategies. She has received several awards for teaching excellence, including the 2013 UCSC Excellence in Teaching Award. Strome was awarded a UC Presidential Chair this year, which she will use to support her efforts to improve the teaching of large genetics courses at UC Santa Cruz.

"Our department has been energized by Professor Strome's willingness to apply her considerable experience and prestige to the challenge of promoting effective learning in our large upper division core classes," wrote Alan Zahler, professor and chair of MCD biology, in a letter nominating Strome for the Outstanding Faculty Award.

Paul Koch, dean of physical and biological sciences, said the award is richly deserved recognition for Strome's exemplary record. "Professor Strome has done trailblazing research in developmental and molecular biology and offered exceptional service to the campus and the broader scientific community. Her students and the campus benefit from her creative and effective teaching, and from her strong leadership in developing innovative approaches to teaching," Koch said.

As a researcher, Strome is a leading authority on the development of germ cells, the cells that give rise to the sperm and eggs needed to create the next generation of organisms. Her research over the past 35 years has led to major advances in the understanding of how certain cells in the developing embryo become germ cells. She discovered "germ granules," distinctive structures that confer germ cell identity on the cells that carry them, and showed that germ granules are delivered to the embryo by the egg and then passed specifically to germ cells.

Strome's lab has also made important findings in the field of "epigenetics," which refers to  heritable changes in gene activity that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence of genes. A growing body of evidence suggests that environmental stresses can cause epigenetic changes in gene expression that are transmitted from parents to their offspring. Epigenetic modifications affect gene expression by changing how DNA is packaged. Strome's research has shown how epigenetic modifications can be passed from cell to cell during development and across generations from parent to child.

Strome also has an impressive record of service at the departmental, campus, and national level. In addition to serving on numerous committees, boards, and grant study sections, she has been heavily involved in the MCD Biology Department's graduate program, including the recruitment of underrepresented students. Since she was recruited to UC Santa Cruz in 2007, Strome "has had a profound impact on our research community and our students," Zahler said. "She is a dedicated faculty member who represents the very best aspects of our programs."

Strome gave the 50th annual UCSC Faculty Research Lecture this year. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, she earned a B.A. in chemistry at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, and a Ph.D. in biochemistry at the University of Washington, Seattle.