President Bush is awarding the government's highest honor for lifetime achievement in scientific research to Mario R. Capecchi, a geneticist at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the University of Utah.

Capecchi is among 14 named Thursday to receive the National Medal of Science, to be awarded later in Washington, D.C.

"It's terrific," he said Thursday after the awards were announced. "It's an excellent set of people, and I'm honored to be a part of that."

Capecchi explained that his team's work with mice has application to human medicine and to understanding human growth.

"What we've developed is a method of being able to change genes in a living organism," he told the Deseret News. Mice are genetically similar to humans, "so whatever we learn in the mouse is also likely to be applicable to humans."

Modifying mouse genes, the scientist can create "models" of genetic diseases that afflict humans. They can study the progression of the disease and use their findings as a vehicle to develop therapies.

Also, the team's studies allow them "just to learn more about how we are put together; that is, to address general questions about the biology of mammals, and that includes us."

Such research could shed light on how the brain works, or what the controls are that influence development of a limb.

Capecchi has been with the institute for more than a decade. He has been at the U., where he is a professor of human genetics, since 1973.

The lifetime achievement award does not imply Capecchi and his team are finished with their work.

"I certainly hope not," he said. "We're still going strong, I hope, and I hope to be going strong another 20 or 30 years."

Besides the science medal, the president also announced recipients of the National Medal of Technology.

"Each one of these individuals has helped advance our country's place as a leader in discovery, creativity and technology," President Bush said, according to a press statement distributed by the National Science Foundation.

Named to receive the science medal this year are:

Capecchi, who developed new genetic tools that the Science Foundation says "revolutionized the study of mammalian genetics and provided important new models for human genetic diseases."

Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California, Irvine, for important discoveries in molecular biology bearing on the origins of species.

Victor A. McKusick of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, "largely responsible for bringing genetics into mainstream of clinical medicine."

Harold Varmus of Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York City, who shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery that normal human and animal cells contain genes that are capable of becoming cancer genes.

Ann M. Graybiel of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for work on brain stem disorders like Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Gene E. Likens, Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., who first documented acid rain in North America.

George F. Bass, Texas A&M University, for underwater archaeology and publishing the first complete excavation findings of an ancient shipwreck.

Ernest R. Davidson, Indiana University, whose chemistry studies "changed our understanding of the nature of matter."

Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, honored as the world's leading authority in the development of modern surface science.

Andreas Acrivos, City College of New York, honored for engineering studies that helped establish the field of suspension mechanics.

Calyampudi R. Rao of Pennsylvania State University, a mathematician, for work in the foundations of statistics.

Elias M. Stein, Princeton University, "who greatly influenced the shaping of mathematical analysis fields," says the foundation.

Marvin L. Cohen, University of California, Berkeley, who had a major impact on semiconductor technology.

Raymond Davis Jr., who while at Brookhaven National Laboratory was the first scientist to measure the flux of neutrinos from the sun.

Charles D. Keeling, Scripps Institution of Oceanography at San Diego, cited for pioneered work relating the carbon cycle to changes in climate and collected some of the most important data in the study of global climate change.

The latest group brings to 401 the total number of science medals awarded since the program began in 1962.


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