2023 EAS Award for Outstanding Achievements in Magnetic Resonance
James H. Prestegard, currently GRA Eminent Scholar, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry, and Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in January of 1944. He remained in the state until he received his BS in Chemistry from the University of Minnesota in 1966. He then moved to California to attend graduate school at Caltech. While he intended to pursue research in physical organic chemistry, he quickly became fascinated with the biophysical chemistry going on in Professor Sunney Chan’s group and produced a thesis exploring applications of Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to both nucleic acids and ion-transport antibiotics. While he intended to pursue postdoctoral studies involving the biophysics of membrane systems, a looming economic downturn dictated looking for a more permanent position. He joined the Chemistry Department of Yale University as an Assistant Professor in 1970.
Ever since his appointment in the Chemistry Department at Yale University, the Prestegard laboratory has specialized in the development and application of NMR methods for the study of systems of biological interest. Focus has evolved from lipid membranes to proteins to carbohydrates, and now to combinations of these systems. The laboratory produced its first NMR structure of a protein in 1988 (acyl carrier protein), a structure which stood as the only structure of a fatty acyl carrier protein until a crystal structure appeared in 2001. It has produced many protein structures since that time, including one of the first integral membrane protein systems, the glycophorin dimer, in 1997. In the course of this activity new methodology was developed, including the use of lipid bicelles as an orientable medium for characterizing glycolipids and residual dipolar couplings (RDCs) as a new source of information on protein structure. In 2002 Dr. Prestegard, along with Aksel Bothner-By and Ad Bax, was recognized for the introduction of RDCs by the Award of the Laukien Prize for an outstanding contribution to experimental NMR.
Since joining the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center at the University of Georgia, interest has turned to glycan-protein interactions and glycoprotein structure. Accomplishments here include the NMR structure determination of a glycoslytransferase domain having a novel fold and the characterization of glycan dynamics on a homogeneously glycosylated version of the immunoglobulin G Fc domain and other glycosylated proteins. During the course of his career Professor Prestegard has mentored nearly 100 doctoral and postdoctoral students. He has published more than 400 papers and he is one of the editors of the leading textbook in the field of glycobiology, “Essentials of Glycobiology”, now in its fourth edition.