Patricia Kiley, PhD, professor and chair of biomolecular chemistry, has been elected a 2020 fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is one of six fellows elected from the University of Wisconsin–Madison this year.

The honor, dating back to 1874, is bestowed annually on members of AAAS who are nominated by their peers and recognized for their efforts to advance science and society. This year, 489 scholars were named AAAS Fellows. Each is expected to maintain the highest standards of scientific integrity and professional ethics.

“I am deeply honored to be recognized by my peers,” Kiley says. “I also want to thank the many trainees in my group that helped contribute to this recognition.”

Patricia Kiley
Patricia Kiley

Kiley was elected for distinguished contributions to the field of microbial gene regulation, particularly for understanding the role of iron-sulfur and iron proteins in oxygen-dependent gene regulation.

While oxygen can be life-sustaining, molecules that contain unstable oxygen atoms can wreak havoc in a cell by damaging essential biomolecules. To control oxygen reactivity, cells must have a way to respond to it, such as through sensing or stabilizing mechanisms.

Since joining the UW–Madison faculty in 1990, Kiley has led a productive interdisciplinary research program to examine the mechanisms of how cells sense oxygen and iron and their effects on what genes are expressed in a cell. Her lab pioneered the combination of biochemical, genomic, genetic, and spectroscopic approaches to establish a regulatory role for iron and iron-sulfur proteins in controlling the transcription of genes in response to changes in oxygen.

The approaches and concepts they developed have provided important insights into how oxygen availability generally impacts organisms. Her group has also used this knowledge to learn how bacteria like Escherichia coli are able to survive in very low-oxygen environments like the gut. The work has implications for bacterial disease control and manipulation of pathways that are normally inactivated by oxygen.

New fellows will be formally announced in the journal Science on Nov. 27, 2020. On Feb. 13, 2021, they will be inducted during a virtual Fellows Forum ceremony.