JoAnne Stubbe
Stubbe receiving National Medal of Science in 2009
Born (1946-06-11) June 11, 1946 (age 77)
Champaign, Illinois
EducationB.S. Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania
Ph.D. Organic Chemistry, University of California, Berkeley
Known forribonucleotide reductases
Scientific career
InstitutionsMassachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisorGeorge Kenyon
Other academic advisorsJulius Rebek

JoAnne Stubbe is an American chemist best known for her work on ribonucleotide reductases, for which she was awarded the National Medal of Science in 2009. In 2017, she retired as a Professor of Chemistry and Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[1]

Career and education

In 1946, Stubbe was born in Champaign, Illinois.[2] In 1968, Stubbe received a BS degree in chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania,[3] and worked as an undergraduate in the laboratory of Professor Edward R. Thornton.[2] After she received her PhD degree in organic chemistry under the guidance of Professor George Kenyon[2] from the University of California, Berkeley in 1971, she did a very brief stint (1971-1972) as a postdoc at UCLA, where she worked on synthesizing LSD from tryptophan with Julius Rebek. Then, Stubbe taught at Williams College (1972-1977) discovered she didn't want to teach, but wanted to do research. Her realization sent her to Brandeis University (1975-1977),[4] where she did a second postdoc with Bob Abeles. This is where she learned the art and science of creating mechanism-based enzyme inhibitors.[5] She also taught at Yale School of Medicine (1977-1980) as an assistant professor in the department of pharmacology.[6]

In 1980, she moved to the University of Wisconsin, serving as assistant professor in the Biochemistry Department and rising to full professor in 1985.[6] She was an assistant professor for a total of 12 years.[5] In 1987, Stubbe became a professor in the MIT Chemistry Department, where she became the first woman to receive tenure in that department.[7] She received a joint appointment in the MIT Biology Department in 1990.

In 1994, Stubbe was one of 16 women faculty in the School of Science at MIT who drafted and co-signed a letter to the then-Dean of Science (now Chancellor of Berkeley) Robert Birgeneau, which started a campaign to highlight and challenge gender discrimination at MIT.[8]


Stubbe has published over 300 scientific papers and has been frequently recognized for her research achievements.[9] Before Stubbe's work, there were no chemical mechanisms that could be written for certain enzymes. She revolutionized the biochemistry field with her first two scientific papers on enzymes enolase and pyruvate kinase.[5]

Her first two publications in scientific journals showed the mechanisms for reactions that involved the enzymes enolase that metabolizes carbohydrates, and pyruvate kinase.[6] Her first groundbreaking experiments were carried out in the late 1970s and early 1980s, while she was at Yale, then the University of Wisconsin. She was trying to understand how the hydroxyl group at the 2’ position of the ribonucleotide's sugar was replaced by the hydrogen found in deoxyribonucleotides. To perform these experiments, she had to synthesize nucleotides that carried a heavy isotope at specific positions. Stubbe reportedly kept a bed in her office since she worked around the clock on her experiments.[5] Stubbe pioneered the use of spectroscopic investigations of enzyme interactions[10] and has devoted most of her career to elucidating the biochemical mechanisms behind free radicals. In her early work at Yale and then at the University of Wisconsin, Stubbe discovered how enzymes called ribonucleotide reductases use free-radical chemistry to convert nucleotides into deoxynucleotides, an essential process in DNA repair and replication.[11] These enzymes catalyze the rate-determining step in DNA biosynthesis. Her analysis of the nucleotide reduction process shed light on the mechanism of action of the Eli Lilly & Co. anti-cancer drug gemcitabine, which is used to treat various carcinomas, such as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and non-small cell lung cancer.[4]

Stubbe, in collaboration with John Kozarich, also elucidated the structure and function of bleomycin, an antibiotic that is commonly used to treat cancer. They discovered how bleomycin induces DNA strand breaks in tumor cells, which in turn induces apoptosis.[4]

Before retiring, Stubbe studied the function of ribonucleotide reductases and the mechanisms of clinically useful drugs. She also extended her research into polyhydroxybutyrates, a class of biodegradable polymers that can be synthesized by bacteria under certain conditions and then converted into plastics.[12] Stubbe's other research interests included the design of so-called suicide inhibitors and mechanisms of DNA repair enzymes.[6]

Stubbe was active on several committees, including review boards for the NIH grants committee and the editorial boards for various scientific journals.[6]

Personal life

Stubbe's parents were teachers, and that is why she thought teaching is what she originally wanted to do as a career.[5] Stubbe had a pet dog named Dr. McEnzyme Stubbe. The dog was a part of the research group and had its own email address and picture on the group's website.[13][14]

Scientific societies

Awards and honors


  1. ^ "Lippard and Stubbe Honored with Retirement Reception – MIT Department of Chemistry". 27 October 2017. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  2. ^ a b c d e Iii and Potuzak (2014). "The 2010 Benjamin Franklin meal in chemistry presented to JoAnne Stubbe". Journal of the Franklin Institute.
  3. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe". MIT Department of Biology. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  4. ^ a b c "Stubbe wins faculty's Killian Award". MIT News. 19 May 2011. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  5. ^ a b c d e Hopkin, K (2007). "JoAnne Stubbe - Making life possible". The Scientist.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i "DCH 2008". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  7. ^ a b Johnson, Carolyn Y. (2009-09-18). "White House to give MIT scientist top honor". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  8. ^ Zernike, Kate (2023). The Exceptions: Nancy Hopkins, MIT, and the Fight for Women in Science. New York, NY: Scribner. ISBN 978-1-9821-3183-8.
  9. ^ "American Chemical Society names JoAnne Stubbe 2020 Priestley Medalist". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  10. ^ "Nakanishi Prize", Chemical & Engineering News: 41–42, 9 February 2009
  11. ^ "Making Life Possible | The Scientist Magazine®". The Scientist. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  12. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe Research Group - MIT". Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  13. ^ "Abreu, Menino, Pagels, and Oprah: The Honorands". Harvard Magazine. 2013-05-30. Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  14. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe Research Group - MIT". Retrieved 2020-01-29.
  15. ^ "Academy of Arts & Sciences Website Search". Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  16. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  17. ^ "Eight Faculty Elected to NAS". MIT News. 6 May 1992. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  18. ^ "Awards and Honors". MIT News. 2 June 2004. Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  19. ^ "Joanne Stubbe | MIT Biology". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  20. ^ "Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards". American Chemical Society.
  21. ^ "2010-11_JoAnne_Stubbe". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  22. ^ "MIT Reports to the President 1995-96". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  23. ^ "Alfred Bader Award in Bioinorganic or Bioorganic Chemistry". American Chemical Society.
  24. ^ "F. A. Cotton Medal for Excellence Chemical Research".
  25. ^ "Repligen Corporation Award in Chemistry of Biological Processes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-07-17. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  26. ^ "John Scott Award Recipients". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  27. ^ "The Protein Society : Protein Society Awards". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  28. ^ "NAS Award in Chemical Sciences". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  29. ^ "Kirkwood Medal To JoAnne Stubbe | September 29, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 39 | Chemical & Engineering News". Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  30. ^ "Nakanishi Prize". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  31. ^ Anne Trafton, MIT News Office (17 September 2009). "Biochemist JoAnne Stubbe wins National Medal of Science". MIT News.
  32. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe Wins Prelog Medal | March 1, 2010 Issue - Vol. 88 Issue 9 | Chemical & Engineering News". Retrieved 2016-01-28.
  33. ^ Franklin Institute Laureate Page for JoAnne Stubbe
  34. ^ Welch Award Listing of Recipients Archived 2011-09-30 at the Wayback Machine
  35. ^ "Murray Goodman Memorial Prize". doi:10.1002/(ISSN)1097-0282. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  36. ^ Degrees
  37. ^ "Distinguished Alumni Award | Department of Chemistry". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  38. ^ Wang, Linda. "2015 Remsen Award To JoAnne Stubbe | Chemical & Engineering News". Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  39. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe". Greengard Prize. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  40. ^ "JoAnne Stubbe wins Pearl Meister Greengard Prize". MIT News. 10 October 2017. Retrieved 2019-06-29.
  41. ^ Celia Henry Arnaud. "JoAnne Stubbe Named 2020 Priestley Medalist". Retrieved 19 June 2019.
  42. ^ "American Chemical Society names JoAnne Stubbe 2020 Priestley Medalist". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2019-06-29.