The Alma Howard Lecture in Molecular Biology

The next Alma Howard Lecture:
Thursday, May 18th, 2023 at 4:00pm
McIntyre Medical Sciences Building, Room 504

Alma Howard

Alma Howard was a radiobiologist who made fundamental contributions to cell biology. Born on 23 October, 1913 in Montreal, she began her education at the Trafalgar School for Girls and then continued her studies at McGill University. In 1934, she graduated with an Honours B.Sc. in Botany and Zoology and went on to pursue graduate studies in the Department of Genetics under Professor C. L. Huskins. Her Ph.D. thesis, submitted in 1938, was titled "The correlation between chromosome behaviour and susceptibility to mammary gland cancer in mice", for which she earned the Governor General's Academic Medal. Between 1939 and 1940, she was demonstrator in Genetics at McGill and held the Finney-Howell Research Fellowship.

By 1949, Alma Howard had joined the team of L. H. Gray at the U.K. Medical Research Council's Radiotherapeutic Research Unit at Hammersmith Hospital in England. She worked alongside other scientists interested in the biological effects of ionizing radiation, including physicist Stephen Pelc. Howard and Pelc used a botanical experimental system, the bean root Vicia faba, to pursue research with Phosphorus-32. By chance, they discovered that a simple acid digestion removed most of the Phosphorus-32 not synthesized into DNA and, by observing its uptake into the nucleus of dividing cells, deduced that DNA replication occurs during a limited period in interphase, which they termed the "S-phase". In 1953, Howard and Pelc published their discovery in a paper titled "Synthesis of Deoxyribonucleic Acid in Normal and Irradiated Cells and Its Relation to Chromosome Breakage". Their paper was the first to attribute a timeframe to cellular life, forming the basis of cell kinetics and thus enabling the development of cell cycle studies in medicine and cancer research.

Alma Howard also worked with Michael Ebert at Hammersmith, and together they discovered that excess pressures of the rare gases xenon, krypton and argon could suppress the oxygen enhancement effect on the radiation killing of Vicia faba cells. She left Hammersmith in 1956 to join the new radiobiology research unit L. H. Gray had established at Mount Vernon Hospital. In 1960, she was appointed Secretary General of the 2nd International Radiation Research Congress, held in 1962. Howard and Ebert moved to Paterson Laboratories in 1963, where Howard was Head of the Radiobiology Group. As joint editors, they formed the journal Current Topics in Radiation Research. By 1966, Howard was Deputy Director of Paterson Laboratories and Joint editor of the International Journal of Radiation Biology.

In memory of Alma Howard, an endowment to McGill University was established in 1986 by her family, friends and colleagues for the purpose of promoting the field of Genetics. To achieve this, funds from the endowment are used to sponsor public and scientific meetings on topics related to Genetics and to support graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. In 2003, the Department of Biology began hosting the annual Alma Howard Lectures which explore ongoing research in Genetics and Cellular, Molecular and Developmental Biology.

Past Seminars in the Alma Howard Lecture Series

  Date Speaker Title
  2023 Dr. Tony Hyman
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology & Genetics
The Cell as a Polyphasic System
  2020 Dr. Dominique C. Bergmann
Stanford University
Asymmetric and stem-cell divisions to build adaptable plant bodies
  2018 Dr. Carl-Phillip Heisenberg
Institute of Science and Technology, Austria
Cell and tissue mechanics in zebrafish gastrulation
  2017 Dr. Angelika Amon
Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Biology, MIT
Aneuploidy and cancer - a complicated relationship
  2016 Dr. David Sherratt
University of Oxford
In vivo single-molecule biology of chromosome repair and segregation
  2014 Dr. Barbara Meyer
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Tethering and Repressing Chromosomes via Molecular Machines
  2012 Dr. Tim Stearns
Stanford University
Centrosomes, Cilia and the Cell Cycle
  2011 Dr. Norbert Perrimon
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Tissue homeostasis in Drosophila
  2010 Dr. Margaret T. Fuller
Stanford University School of Medicine
Regulation of self-renewal and differentiation in an adult stem cell lineage
  2009 Dr. James Nelson
Stanford University School of Medicine
Epithelial Cell-Cell Adhesion and Polarity
  2008 Dr. Jennifer Lippincott-Schwartz
NIH, Bethesda
New fluorescent imaging techniques for analysis of protein transport pathways and the near molecular resolution of proteins
  2007 Dr. Nori Satoh
Kyoto University
Developing a model organism – the ascidian chordate Ciona Intestinalis
  2006 Dr. Craig Mello
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
RNAi and Development in C. elegans
  2005 Dr. Thomas Pollard
Yale University Medical School
Regulation of actin filament dynamics during cellular motility and cytokinesis
  2004 Dr. Ruth Lehmann
New York University Medical School
Navigating the embryo: Germ cell migration in flies and mice
  2003 Dr. Elizabeth Robertson
Harvard University
From Fertilization to Gastrulation: Axis Formation in Mouse Development
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