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Rosalind Franklin Award Recognizes Young Women at the Forefront of Genetics Research

Rosalind Franklin Award Recognizes Young Women at the Forefront of Genetics Research  content piece image
Rosalind Franklin. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
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The Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award honors the phenomenal contributions of Dr. Rosalind Franklin to the field of genetics by providing two young, female geneticists a cash prize of $75,000 to fund their research.

The career development research prize was created to encourage, inspire and support a new generation of women in the field of genetics, and is administered by a joint committee appointed by the Genetics Society of America (GSA), the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG), and The Gruber Foundation. It is awarded every three years to candidates in their first to third year of an independent faculty-level position in any area of genetics research. One award recognizes research in human and non-human mammals, whilst the other recognizes research in non-mammalian model organisms.

"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."

And the award goes to…

The winners of the 2019 Rosalind Franklin Young Investigator Award are Molly Schumer, PhD, of Stanford University and Bérénice Benayoun, PhD, of the University of Southern California.

Schumer is the 2019 recipient in genetics of non-mammalian organisms. Her work explores how hybridization – the process of interbreeding individuals from genetically distinct populations – impacts the evolution of genes and species. She developed an interest in studying evolution whilst earning her Bachelor's degree at Reed College before completing her PhD at Princeton University. Along with her PhD mentor Peter Andolfatto, Schumer created genomic and computational techniques to study hybridization in a novel animal model system: two hybridizing species of swordtail fish. Utilizing this model, Schumer was able to demonstrate that there are constraints on how freely different parts of the genome can move between species. Her focus now is to unravel the cause of those constraints.

Benayoun is the 2019 recipient for research in human and mammalian genetics. Benayoun earned her Bachelor's and Master's degrees at École Normale Supérieure, in Paris, France. It was during a summer placement in the lab of Richard Morimoto, PhD, at Northwestern University when an interest in aging was sparked. Benayoun's research investigates how genomic regulation influences the aging process. Her PhD research at Paris Diderot-Paris University focused on the role of a specific transcription factor in ovarian aging, and as a postdoc at Stanford University she developed a novel vertebrate model for aging research, a short-lived fish called the African turquoise kilifish. Through her current research, Benayoun is hoping to identify how age and interventions that extend lifespan (such as dietary changes) influence the transcriptome and the epigenome, and to further understand how sex influences these changes.

Other excellent candidates

In addition to the two prize winners the committee also wish to give honorable mention to four excellent 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.

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.