Gabrielle L. Boulianne
Neurobiologist who has used the common fruit fly as a model to study aging and human neurodegenerative diseases such as Lou Gehrig's disease and Alzheimer's.
Boulianne discovered the cause of oxidative damage to cells, using the fruit fly as a model. Fruit flies have a similar nervous system to humans and have many genes in common.
Scientists have long known that the degenerative effect over time which oxygen has on our cells is a factor in aging and lifespan. Boulianne demonstrated not only that nerve cells are a "weak link" for damage by oxidation, but that a single gene is responsible for this process. By inserting fruit flies with a human gene known to protect against oxidative damage, Boulianne and her team were able to increase the normal lifespan of the fruit fly by 40%. This has great significance in scientific understanding not only of the natural aging process, but of degenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Lou Gehrig's disease) and Alzheimer's.