PSU researchers win top international research award

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BioMed Central presented its top international research trophy July 25 to Portland State University biology professor Ken Stedman and doctoral student Geoffrey Diemer for their discovery of a hybrid virus with both RNA and DNA structures in its genetic design.

A panel of top scientists and clinicians picked Diemer and Stedman’s article on a novel virus genome as the best research published in more than 250 scientific and medical research journals in 2012. 

“What’s really great about this accomplishment is that it’s not about money; it’s about discovery,” said Jonathan Fink, PSU’s vice president for Research & Strategic Partnerships. “It’s about acknowledgment for creativity in a way that is very rare. To have a publication get this honor doesn’t happen very often.”

Diemer and Stedman’s article in “Biology Direct” shows how viruses may have bridged an evolutionary gap four billion years ago, when life forms evolved from RNA-based genetic material to more complex DNA-based cellular life. Their work is one of the journal’s most accessed articles ever.

By studying these viruses, Stedman’s team is furthering the understanding of how life can mutate and evolve.

The team made the discovery while filtering through microbes collected from extreme environments like the acidic hot springs at Boiling Springs Lake in California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park.

The team cross-referenced the hybrid virus and found similar versions had been captured in ocean water samples—signaling that this combination was not an anomaly.

"This virus might not have been found had we discarded data that at first glance appeared to be erroneous," Diemer said.

Stedman and Diemer’s study also won the Computational and High-Throughput Studies in Genomics and Systems Biology Award from BioMed Central.

BioMed Central is a science, technology and medicine publisher that pioneered open access publishing. All peer-reviewed research articles published by BioMed Central are made immediately and freely accessible online, and are licensed to allow redistribution and reuse. 

(Pictured above, from left: Jonathan Fink, vice president for Research & Strategic Partnerships; doctoral student Geoffrey Diemer; Bob Schatz of BioMed Central; and Ken Stedman, associate professor of biology. Photo by Jennifer Newsted.)

Below is a video from BioMed Central of Stedman talking about the award.