Manasvi Verma wins 2020 Spector Prize

Manasvi Verma, a senior majoring in biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, has been awarded the 2020 Spector Prize.

Manasvi Verma

Each year, the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis awards a prize to a graduating senior in memory of Marion Smith Spector, a 1938 graduate who studied zoology under the late Viktor Hamburger. The Spector Prize, first awarded in 1974, recognizes academic excellence and outstanding undergraduate achievement in research. Students are nominated by their research mentors for outstanding research that has made substantial contributions to a field.

Manasvi was nominated for the Spector prize by her faculty mentor Sergej Djuranovic, associate professor of cell biology and physiology at WUSM. She joined the Djuranovic lab in spring 2017 where she worked independently on a project that follows determinants of efficient protein synthesis, resulting in a manuscript published in Nature Communications with Manasvi as the first author, as well as two upcoming publications where she will be a first or co-first author.

Her mentor, Djuranovic, states “This is the first publication that describes how amino acid sequence in N-terminus of all proteins controls efficiency of protein synthesis. The significance of her research can be already seen as her manuscript is in top 50 articles and one of the most read articles in Nature Communications. . . Besides the obvious impact on fields of protein synthesis, protein evolution and biology in general, the direct application of her results will have enormous impact on the fields of biotechnology and biomedical engineering where increase of production in recombinant or engineered proteins is always at need.

“In short, Manasvi is the best undergraduate student that I have worked with since I started my scientific career. . . I find her to be highly intelligent, well educated, hardworking and motivated to succeed. She is enthusiastic and excited about her research, RNA biology, genetics and biochemistry in general. She clearly enjoys both short- and long-term challenges, issues and activities associated with laboratory research and her project in particular.”

Manasvi will present her research virtually at a special seminar in May. She says: “I am extremely grateful to Sergej and Slavica [Pavlovic-Djuranovic, also in the lab] for being the best mentors I could have asked for and for really helping me grow into the scientist I am today. My WashU experience wouldn’t have been the same without them!”

Honorable mentions for the Spector Prize include Ali Wilkening for her work on the zebrafish pigment development field in Ting Wang’s lab and Kate Wardenburg for her work on pathogen biology and antibiotic resistance in Gautam Dantas’ lab. They will also receive a prize and formal acknowledgement at a virtual celebration of biology honors and research emphasis students in May.