A native Californian, Chris Hawkes earned his BS in Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley. After a break working in the radiopharmaceutical industry, Chris earned his Ph.D. degree in Biochemistry from the University of California, Davis. Dr. Hawkes joined the staff of the USDA Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the Presidio of San Francisco in 1984 and joined the UC Davis Department of Nutrition as an adjunct professor when the WHNRC moved to Davis in 1999.
Dr. Hawkes’ research concerns selenium and chronic disease prevention, particularly the role of selenoproteins in redox regulation, cell cycle control, and inflammatory signaling pathways. His current research is focused on the role of the small selenoprotein SEPW1 in propagation of epidermal growth factor signaling. A combination of biochemical, molecular biological, and proteomic approaches are being applied to identify the enzymatic activity and molecular function of SEPW1.
·Dr. Hawkes discovered selenocysteine transfer RNA and showed that selenocysteine is incorporated into selenoproteins directly from tRNA during protein synthesis. Selenocysteine is now recognized as the 21st amino acid in the genetic code.
·Dr. Hawkes showed that at least 85% of the selenium in rats is present as selenocysteine in a group of 20-25 selenoproteins. This led to the recognition that selenoproteins are responsible for the biological effects of selenium.
·Dr. Hawkes demonstrated that monkey fetuses are protected from toxic levels of selenium by the placenta.This work demonstrated that pregnant women are not at risk from eating foods from high selenium areas, which are common in major agricultural production areas of the Western United States.
·Dr. Hawkes discovered that selenoprotein W (SEPW1) is required for epidermal growth factor signaling and that lack of SEPW1 causes a p38-, p53-, and p21-dependent cell cycle arrest. Because SEPW1 is the only selenoprotein increased by selenium supplementation, it may be responsible for at least some of the effects of selenium supplements.