JoAnne Stubbe earned a B.S. in chemistry with high honors from the University of Pennsylvania in 1968 and her Ph.D. in chemistry at University of California at Berkeley under the direction of George Kenyon in 1971. Her first two publications in scientific journals outlined the mechanism of reactions involving the enzymes enolase, which metabolizes carbohydrates, and pyruvate kinase.
Following completion of her doctorate, she spent a year at the University of California at Los Angeles doing postdoctoral research in the department of chemistry with Julius Rebek. In 1972 she accepted a post as assistant professor of chemistry at Williams College in Massachusetts where she stayed until 1977. In late 1975 she accepted a second postdoctoral fellowship, took a leave of absence from her teaching duties, and spent a year and a half at Brandeis University on a grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
From 1977 to 1980 she was assistant professor in the department of pharmacology at the Yale University School of Medicine. She then began a seven-year association with the University of Wisconsin at Madison, beginning as assistant professor and rising to full professor of biochemistry in 1985. In 1987 the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) beckoned, and she accepted a position as professor in the department of chemistry. In 1992 she was named John C. Sheehan Professor of Chemistry and Biology.
Her research focused on the mechanism of enzymes called ribonucleotide reductases, which catalyze the rate-determining step in DNA biosynthesis. This mechanism involves radical intermediates and requires protein-based radicals for catalysis. Ribonucleotide reductases are major targets for the design of antitumor and antiviral agents, because inhibiting these enzymes interferes with the biosynthesis of DNA and cell growth. In collaboration with colleague John Kozarich, she has also explained the mechanism by which the antitumor antibiotic bleomycin degrades DNA. Bleomycin is used to kill cancer cells, a function that is thought to be related to its ability to bind to and degrade DNA. Other research interests of Stubbe’s include the design of so-called suicide inhibitors and mechanisms of DNA repair enzymes.
She has published over eighty scientific papers and has been recognized frequently for her research achievements. She was the recipient of a NIH career development award, the Pfizer Award in enzyme chemistry in 1986, and the ICI-Stuart Pharmaceutical Award for excellence in chemistry in 1989. She received a teaching award from MIT in 1990 and the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award in 1993. She was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1992. Stubbe is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biological Chemists, and the Protein Society. She has been active on several committees, including review boards for the NIH grants committee and the editorial boards for various scientific journals.