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2019 Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award winners announced

Genetics Society of America

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IMAGE: Bérénice Benayoun, PhD, 2019 recipient of the Rosalind Franklin view more 

Credit: (Photo courtesy of the University of Southern California)

The Genetics Society of America (GSA) and The Gruber Foundation are pleased to announce Molly Schumer, PhD, of Stanford University; and Bérénice Benayoun, PhD, of the University of Southern California as the 2019 recipients of the Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award.

The Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award is funded by The Gruber Foundation and is awarded every three years to two women geneticists at the beginning of their independent research careers. Winners are selected by a committee appointed by GSA. The award recognizes outstanding genetics research in two categories: non-mammalian genetics and mammalian genetics, including human genetics. Each winner will receive a $75,000 award to be used for her research.

"The Rosalind Franklin Award recognizes the accomplishments of young women investigators on their path to discovery," said Ruth Lehmann, PhD, Chair of the Rosalind Franklin Award committee and Professor and Department Chair in Cell Biology at New York University School of Medicine. "The committee was thrilled by the record number of highly qualified applicants, demonstrating great curiosity, creativity and fearlessness among the next generation of woman geneticists."

Molly Schumer, the 2019 recipient in genetics of non-mammalian organisms, investigates how the evolution of genomes and species is affected by hybridization--a process that allows genes to move between species. Schumer earned her Bachelor's degree at Reed College, where she became interested in studying evolution. During her PhD research at Princeton University with mentor Peter Andolfatto, PhD, Schumer developed genomic and computational tools to study hybridization in a new animal model system--two hybridizing species of swordtail fish. Postdoctoral research with 2007 Rosalind Franklin Award recipient Molly Przeworski, PhD, at Columbia University focused on the interplay between local recombination rate and selection on hybrids, and she continued this work with David Reich, PhD, at Harvard Medical School. Schumer's research in swordtail fish demonstrated that even though hybridization is common, there are constraints on how freely different parts of the genome can move between species. Schumer is now working to understand the cause of those constraints.

Bérénice Benayoun, the 2019 recipient in human and mammalian genetics, researches how genomic regulation influences the aging process. Benayoun earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, France. During her undergraduate studies she spent a summer at Northwestern University in the lab of Richard Morimoto, PhD, where her findings on transcription factors sparked her interest in aging. Benayoun's PhD research at Paris Diderot-Paris 7 University with Reiner Veitia, PhD, focused on the role of a specific transcription factor in ovarian aging. As a postdoc at Stanford University with Anne Brunet, PhD, Benayoun helped develop a new vertebrate model for aging research, a short-lived fish called the African turquoise kilifish, along with the genetic tools to study it. Using those tools, she identified genes associated with life span differences. Recently Benayoun looked at epigenomic and transcriptomic changes across tissues in mice as they aged and found that there are predictable changes in genome regulation during aging. Benayoun's current work focuses on identifying how age and interventions that extend life span (such as dietary changes) influence the transcriptome and epigenome, and to understand the influence of sex on these changes.

The committee also gives honorable mention to four additional outstanding candidates:

  • Lauren O'Connell, PhD, of Stanford University, for developing poison frogs as a model system to understand the genetic and evolutionary basis of physiological and behavioral adaptations;
  • Sarah Zanders, PhD, of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, for her work on the effects of genetic conflicts caused by "selfish genes" that do not promote the overall fitness of an organism;
  • Kelley Harris, PhD, of the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center; for her research on the evolution of mutagenesis in humans;
  • and Jihye Yun, PhD, of the Baylor College of Medicine, for her research on how diet can influence epigenetics to promote cancer development.

Committee:

Ruth Lehmann, New York University School of Medicine, Chair

Maria Barna, Stanford University, 2016 Rosalind Franklin Award Winner

Mary Gehring, Whitehead Institute and MIT, 2013 Rosalind Franklin Award Winner

Mary Lou Guerinot, Dartmouth College

Valerie Horsley, Yale University, 2013 Rosalind Franklin Award Winner

Iiris Hovatta, University of Helsinki, 2010 Rosalind Franklin Award Winner

Mary-Claire King, University of Washington, Seattle

Susan Mango, University of Basel

Janet Rossant, Hospital for Sick Children

Amy Pasquinelli, University of California, San Diego, 2004 Rosalind Franklin Award Winner

Huda Zhogbi, Baylor College of Medicine

Award Presentation: The Awards will be presented by The Gruber Foundation at The Allied Genetics Conference, April 22-26, 2020 at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center.

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