Eran Pichersky, the Michael M. Martin Collegiate Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, is one of 175 winners of the Guggenheim Fellowships, awarded annually for distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment.
"The spice of life: How plant chemicals have influenced human behavior and history" is the title of Pichersky's project. Each plant species makes a set of unique compounds that help it attract pollinators and other beneficial organisms, repel herbivores and suppress the growth of plant competitors. People have often found specific plant chemicals to be valuable as spices, food preservatives and medicines of various kinds, including the behavior-modifying ones.
"For many years, my laboratory has studied how plants synthesize many of these compounds," Pichersky said. "The Guggenheim Fellowship will now allow me to take a sabbatical to research and write a book on how the specific chemical compositions of various plant species have had an (often unconscious) influence on human actions — for example, agricultural practices, but also other cultural activities as well."
Since its establishment in 1925, the foundation has granted more than $325 million in fellowships to almost 18,000 individuals, among whom are scores of Nobel laureates and poets laureate, as well as winners of the Pulitzer Prize, Fields Medal and other important, internationally recognized honors.