Marlene Belfort: Stellar Researcher and Mentor

A groundbreaking scientist in the field of genetics and biochemistry, Marlene Belfort has received a host of prestigious honors, most notably her election to the National Academy of Sciences.

Of particular significance to her, however, is the award for mentoring she received from the American Society for Microbiology.

The award recognizes what those who work with her already know. Belfort is a dedicated mentor, passionate about guiding and fostering young scientists.

At UAlbany's RNA Institute, Belfort focuses that zeal on attracting and nurturing a cluster of accomplished young scientists, while contributing her considerable scientific expertise.

Belfort joined The RNA Institute in 2011 after a distinguished 33-year career as a research scientist at the Wadsworth Center, the research-intensive public health laboratory of the New York State Department of Health. While there, she made major discoveries in the field of genetics, the study of organisms' hereditary information encoded in DNA and RNA. She provided new insights into genome organization, and the role of introns, mobile elements, and RNA biology in the evolution of life.

She has served on and chaired prestigious committees for such organizations as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Academy of Sciences. Belfort is on the editorial board of several respected scientific journals and serves on advisory boards to biomedical research organizations. She also became a faculty member in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at UAlbany's School of Public Health, where she was awarded the rank of Distinguished Professor. She trained and mentored dozens of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows.

Her work has appeared in more than 160 leading scientific publications. For about 25 years, her two main grants from the National Institutes of Health have been funded continuously; together these grants total about $1 million a year.

As UAlbany prepared to launch The RNA Institute, Belfort played an important advisory role. Now, she serves as part of the impressive team working to make the Institute a center of translational research for RNA-based drug discovery.

When providing young scientists with the support they need, Belfort cites parallels between life in the lab and raising a family. In "The Win-Win Potential for Motherhood and Science" published in Current Biology, Belfort writes, "creative cooking enables original experimentation, while regimentation in the lab translates into organization in the home."

She emphasizes the critical importance, in both arenas, of collaboration which, in turn, can help young scientists achieve balance and success in their work and personal lives. Under Belfort's guidance, collaboration may even help aspiring scientists write better. She is working on a partner- ship between The RNA Institute and the New York State Writers Institute to do just that.