Patricia Wittkopp, Sally L. Allen Collegiate Professor and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, was awarded three prestigious honors recently: a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation; a 2019 Guggenheim Fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation; and the 2019 Margaret Dayhoff Mid-Career Award from the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution.

Patricia Wittkopp at her microscope. Image credit: Center for Research and Learning on Teaching.

Wittkopp uses fruit flies and baker’s yeast to study the genetic changes responsible for differences among living things. These differences exist between cell types, between individuals of the same species, and between species. Her work reveals which sequences in the genome cause these biological differences and how they affect molecular activities within the cell. 

“Support from these awards will allow me to spend six months interacting with colleagues in Heidelberg, Germany. These colleagues each have distinct but overlapping research interests in how gene expression is controlled within an organism and evolves between species,” said Wittkopp. “My goal for this time is to develop and refine new questions that push my lab’s research (and hopefully research in the field more generally) in new directions.”

The Bessel Research Award recognizes scientists and scholars from abroad, internationally renowned in their field, who completed their doctorates less than 18 years ago and who in the future are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements, which will have a seminal influence on their discipline beyond their immediate field of work. Award winners, who are honored for their outstanding research record, are invited to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany. The Humboldt Foundation grants about 20 Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Awards annually.

The John Simon Guggenheim Foundation selected 168 scholars, artists, writers and scientists this year from approximately 3,000 applicants as 2019 Guggenheim Fellows. These fellows were selected based on their prior achievement and exceptional promise. Edward Hirsch, president of the foundation, called the fellows “the best of the best.”

Finally, the Society for Molecular Biology & Evolution awards the Margaret Dayhoff Mid-Career Award each year to a member of the SMBE community whose record of truly outstanding research has contributed broadly to the field of molecular biology and evolution.

Patricia Wittkopp wearing fly vision goggles.

When asked about these accolades, Wittkopp said, “Being a professor, free to wonder about how the world works and collaborate with students and postdocs to try to figure it out, is invigorating. Especially when you get to work with the outstanding group of talented, creative, and passionate people that I have been fortunate to work with; these awards recognize their hard work as much as my own. Being nominated and supported by people who have inspired me, is humbling, and being selected to receive these awards is thrilling, indeed.”

Three cheers to Wittkopp!

Read more about the Guggenheim Fellowship in the University Record.

Compiled by Gail Kuhnlein