NEW BRUNSWICK/PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- Two distinguished faculty members of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the highest honors an American scientist or engineer can achieve.
Hugo K. Dooner, a professor at the Waksman Institute of Microbiology and in the Department of Plant Biology and Pathology at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences; and Paul G. Falkowski, a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and the Institute of Marine and Coastal Science, were among the 72 new members chosen May 1.
Dooner is known primarily for his research into the genetics of maize (corn) that has demonstrated the adaptability of its genome and its propensity for reorganizing the mobile DNA elements that carry the genes.
Falkowski has gained recognition for his achievements in understanding the photosynthetic processes and evolution of marine phytoplankton, and the role of the ocean in the global biogeochemical cycle.
The two scientists join a select group of 19 NAS members from Rutgers.
"I am greatly honored to be elected to the Academy, an achievement that recognizes the research performed throughout the years by former and present members of my lab," Dooner said.
Dooner has brought a fresh perspective to our understanding of genomes. He observed that rather than adhering to a rigid plan, the genomes of many organisms, like maize and humans, comprise mobile, gene-coding DNA elements. Dooner saw these as small islands of gene-coding regions in a vast sea of highly repeated sequences. In maize, he found the "islands" shifting positions along or between chromosomes, remaining intact and functional in the process. With chromosomal exchanges limited to the sequences between gene-coding regions, Dooner found that genes remain unscathed in different neighborhoods. The result is functional genes in multiple neighborhoods, concluding that this picture is one of a protective evolutionary adaptation.
"I'm extremely honored, and more than a little surprised, at my election to the National Academy of Sciences," Falkowski said. "I look forward to working with my newfound colleagues in the NAS to serve our national science needs. On a personal level, I will continue to work on understanding the evolution of biogeochemical cycles, and their role in making the world habitable for humans."
Falkowski is an internationally renowned biological oceanographer whose research is directed toward understanding the evolution of biogeochemical cycles. He joined the Rutgers marine science and geology faculties in 1998 after 23 years at the Brookhaven National Laboratory. The co-inventor of a fluorescence-sensing system for studying microscopic marine organisms, Falkowski has authored or co-authored more than 250 papers in peer-reviewed journals and books. Most recently, his paper describing the connection between the increase in oxygen content in the atmosphere and mammalian evolution was published in the journal Science. At Rutgers, Falkowski heads the environmental biophysics and molecular ecology program and is the director of the newly established Rutgers University Energy Institute.
The National Academy of Sciences is a private, nonprofit, self-perpetuating society of distinguished scholars engaged in scientific and engineering research, dedicated to the advancement of science and technology and to their use for the general welfare. Upon the authority of the charter granted to it by Congress in 1863, the academy is required by mandate to advise the federal government on scientific and technical matters.