- The researchers Pedro Carvalho and Fyodor Kondrashov have received the "International Early Career Award" from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
- The prize was presented to 28 candidates chosen from between 760 nominations from 18 different countries.
- Researchers from 3 other Spanish centres were also honoured.
Two researchers from the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) have received the "International Early Career Scientists" (IECS) award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Each will receive $(US) 650,000, distributed over 5 years, from February 2012 onwards.
A total of 760 researchers applied from centres in 18 countries. Only 28 researchers were selected, 5 of which were from Spanish research institutes.
The selection process included a 15 minute presentation, in November last year, given in the headquarters of the institute, at the Janelia Farm Research Campus, in Ashburn, Virginia (USA), where the candidates were examined according to scientific excellence criteria as well as the achievements of their early careers as researchers.
The HHMI is one of the largest funders of scientific research in the United States. Through the IECS HHMI is awarding $(US) 20 million to the 28 researchers from international institutions and will integrate them into its network of over 350 members (among which are 13 Nobel prize winners and more than 140 members of the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS).
These are the first IECS awards. The IECS program is the latest incarnation of HHMI’s international grants to individual researchers. Since 1991, HHMI has spent more than $145 million to fund international scientists.
Among the countries with scientist receiving IECS awards are China (with 7), and Portugal and Spain (5) stand out. The other Spanish centres with award-winning researchers are the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), the Pfizer Centre-University of Granada-Andalusia Genomics and Oncology Research (GENYO) and the National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC).
About the CRG prize winners:
Pedro Carvalho has been head of the Organelle Biogenesis and Homeostasis research group at the CRG since 2010. His research focuses on endoplasmic reticulum (ER), responsible for producing proteins, cellular transport (via cell membranes, to which it is linked) and lipid metabolism. His group investigates the process of protein folding, an important step in which various processes occur, such as the elimination of badly folded proteins, which is key to the proper functioning of the cell. The HHMI seeks to support Carvalho’s research into this.
Carvalho received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Porto (Portugal), but carried out all the experimental research for his thesis at the Dana Faber Cancer Institute in Boston (USA). Using the fruit fly as a model, he was particularly interested in studying the proteins that help the joining of chromosomes with microtubules (filaments that provide strength and structure to the cell during cell division).
Subsequently, he did a postdoc at Harvard Medical School, investigating how the cell processes proteins that are not properly folded and which, in many cases, cause diseases, such as cystic fibrosis (CF), Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Huntington's chorea and even mad cow disease. The folding is important in the functioning of the protein as the form it takes determines the function it performs. If the folding is incorrect, the protein performs functions that could be harmful to the cell. For these studies, Carvalho abandoned the fruit fly in favour of yeast, which he has used as a model ever since.
Fyodor Kondrashov is an ICREA research professor and has been head of the Evolutionary Genomics group at the CRG since 2008. His research is based on the computational study of genomic information obtained from, for example, DNA sequencing, gene expression, protein structure and RNA. Using bioinformatic tools, he analyses this data to solve evolutionary riddles on the molecular, cellular and organism levels. His group also attempts to use ultrasequencing technology to answer questions on selection and the adaptation of organisms to their environment.
Since the beginning of his research career, Kondrashov has been interested in the evolution of organisms and how they change and adapt to new environments under new natural selection pressures. Although that which he ultimately analyses is data from genome sequencing, the questions are asked in a much wider and more diverse context. For this reason, his studies are not focused on a model organism (such as the fruit fly, mice, or yeast).
Born in Russia to a family with a tradition of research, aged 11 he moved with his parents to the US. He completed his Masters in Population Biology at the University of California, Davis, and later received his Ph.D. in Evolutionary Genetics from the University of California, San Diego, where he did his thesis on the effects of gene duplication on the evolution of an organism. Upon completion of his doctorate, in 2008, he moved to the CRG to direct the Evolutionary Genomics group, part of the Bioinformatics and Genomics programme. Since 2011 he has been a research professor at the ICREA.
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