RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Stephanie Turner Chen, a University of California, Riverside alumna, has received the prestigious Larry Sandler Memorial Award given by the Genetics Society of America to the most outstanding Ph.D. dissertation of the year in Drosophila genetics.
Turner Chen, who graduated in 2010 with a Ph.D. in cell, molecular and developmental biology (CMDB), received the award last week at the 53rd Annual Drosophila Research Conference, Chicago.
Turner Chen, who worked in the lab of entomologist Anandasankar Ray, an assistant professor participating in the CMDB program, gave the Larry Sandler Memorial Lecture which kicks off the conference.
"I was highly surprised to be chosen, as the competition for the award is always very intense," said Turner Chen, who, as a Damon Runyon Postdoctoral Fellow now at UC San Francisco, is studying molecular mechanisms involved in pain reception. "Receiving this award would not have been possible without my Ph.D. adviser Dr. Ray, who nominated me for the award, and gave me unparalleled mentorship throughout my dissertation work."
At UCR Turner Chen worked on the detection of carbon dioxide in the fruit fly and the mosquito.
"While working on the fruit fly, we were interested in finding out why fruit flies avoid carbon dioxide despite being attracted to fermenting fruits, which produce large amounts of carbon dioxide," she said. "We found fruit odors that actually inhibit the carbon dioxide receptor of the fly, and therefore inhibit their avoidance behavior to carbon dioxide."
Subsequently Turner Chen investigated whether these odors could also inhibit the carbon dioxide receptors of mosquitoes, given that these insects are attracted to carbon dioxide, using our exhaled breath as a cue for seeking a human blood-meal.
"We found odors that blind the mosquitoes' ability to detect carbon dioxide, causing dramatically reduced carbon dioxide attraction behavior," she said. "This work provides a novel approach to mosquito control."
Her work on Drosophila olfaction resulted in the publication of two papers in Nature of which she was first author.
"Stephanie showed great commitment to research and remarkable versatility in this interdisciplinary project," Ray said. "It is quite an honor to present the Sandler talk, which represents the finest research in Drosophila, one of the premier model systems for basic research. Her thesis serves as one of the finest demonstrations of how fundamental research in model systems can be translated into models for control of deadly diseases."
Laurence Sandler (1929-1987) made many contributions to Drosophila genetics and also trained many Drosophila geneticists. The Larry Sandler Memorial Award honors his memory.
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