Dennis Dean, University Distinguished Professor of biochemistry and founding director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech, was recently honored as a fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) for his efforts to advance the molecular life sciences through sustained outstanding accomplishments in areas such as scientific research, diversity, education, mentorship, and service to the scientific community.

“Dennis has made paradigm-shifting discoveries that define the biological basis for iron-sulfur cluster formation. He discovered that both simple and complex iron-sulfur clusters, necessary to sustain life on earth, are pre-assembled on protein scaffolds, and also discovered the mechanism for sulfur trafficking in cells,” said X.J. Meng, interim executive director of the Fralin Life Sciences Institute. 

“These discoveries have had profound impact on the fields of microbial biology and biological sciences in general. Dennis’ work has been highly cited by his peers with more than 23,390 citations and an h-index of 88.”

Dean has made these outstanding contributions to microbiology and biochemistry, using genetic and biochemical approaches to understand fundamental microbial processes. Dean’s academic appointment is in the Department of Biochemistry within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and his research team focuses on enzymes that assemble iron-sulfur clusters, cofactors that are important for life-sustaining processes such as nitrogen fixation, photosynthesis, and respiration.

Selection as a fellow of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology is an honor bestowed on ASBMB’s most distinguished members. Fellows are recognized for their contributions to the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology as well as meritorious work to advance the molecular life sciences.

“When I was a graduate student, we all aspired to get our work published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry. Since then, our group has published our best and most highly-cited work in that ASBMB journal, so this recognition is indeed a cherished honor for me,” said Dean.

Fellows receive a crystal award and a pin and are recognized by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in various public and online forums and at the ASBMB annual meeting.

Squire Booker, Evan Pugh University Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Pennsylvania State University, who nominated Dean, wrote that “it can be argued that Dean is the father of the field of iron-sulfur cluster biogenesis.”

Dean has also contributed to elevating molecular life sciences education and outreach at Virginia Tech and throughout Virginia. He has an abiding interest in providing research experiences for undergraduate students and has hosted more than 50 undergraduate researchers in his laboratory. 

He serves on the advisory committee for the Office of Undergraduate Research at Virginia Tech which in 2014 established the Fralin Undergraduate Research FellowshipSummer Undergraduate Research Fellowship, and Dennis Dean Undergraduate Research and Creative Scholarship Conference. More than 200 undergraduate students participate in this conference each spring. In 2017, Dean established an undergraduate research endowment and funds generated from the endowment are used to provide Scholarships to underserved students that could not otherwise have an opportunity to gain an undergraduate research experience. Students sponsored by this, and a similar separate endowment provided by Horace Fralin, for whom the Life Sciences Institute is named, meet with Dean on a regular basis to discuss aspects of their professional and personal development.

Dean received a bachelor of arts from Wabash College in 1973 and is a Purdue University College of Science Distinguished alumnus, receiving his Ph.D. in 1979. He was a National Institutes of Health pre-doctoral and post-doctoral fellow. Prior to joining the Virginia Tech faculty, he was a staff scientist at the Charles Kettering Laboratory.

During his tenure at Virginia Tech, he has served as executive director of the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and interim vice president for research and innovation. He previously held the title of Stroobants Professor of Biotechnology and is currently a University Distinguished Professor, has served on the editorial boards for the Journal of Bacteriology and the Journal of Biological Chemistry, and was elected to the publications board for the American Society for Biochemistry & Molecular Biology.

He currently serves on the ethics committee for the American Society for Microbiology. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and a newly elected member of the Virginia Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine.

Dean has received extramural funding to support his research continuously beginning from the time he was a graduate student at Purdue University.  Funding agencies that have provided support for his research include National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, United States Department of Agriculture, Department of Energy, the Office of Naval Research, the DuPont corporation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. 

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