Janelle Ayres wins Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists

Janelle Ayres of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has won the Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists, one of the world’s largest unrestricted prizes for early career scientists. Ayres is the laureate in the category of life sciences, and will be awarded $250,000 for her pioneering research.

“Janelle is one of the most original thinkers in the field of infectious disease research,” says Salk President Rusty Gage. “Her pioneering work on microbes has the potential to change human health in fundamental ways. We are elated the Blavatnik Foundation has recognized Janelle’s past accomplishments and future promise with this prestigious award.”

Spearheaded by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, the Blavatnik National Awards recognize both the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most talented scientific and engineering researchers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions.

Working at the intersection of immunology and microbiology, Ayres’ pioneering research on host-pathogen interactions is redefining our understanding of health. Ayres’ discovery that microbes have evolved mechanisms to promote the health of the host to support their own survival reveals a beneficial role for microbes in maintenance of host health. Promoting host “tolerance” of microbes may offer a novel therapeutic approach to treating infections that is not reliant on antibiotics.

Ayres is associate professor at the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis and the Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair at the Salk Institute. Located in La Jolla, California, Salk is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to basic research in the biological sciences — and is one of the foremost institutions of its kind in the world.

Karl Deisseroth awarded 2018 Kyoto Prize

Karl Deisseroth has been awarded the 2018 Kyoto Prize in the category of Advanced Technology for the discovery of optogenetics and development of causal systems neuroscience. He developed an biological approach known as optogenetics, a technique that involves the use of light to control cells in living tissue, typically neurons, that have been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. This achievement has revolutionized the field of systems neuroscience, enabling causal study of neuronal assembly activity and resulting function, beyond correlational studies.

At 46 years old, Deisseroth is the youngest laureate in the history of the Kyoto Prize, which dates back to 1985. The prize is awarded annually, honoring those who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind. The prize is awarded in three categories: Advanced Technology, Basic Sciences, and Arts and Philosophy. The Kyoto Prize presentation ceremony will be held in Kyoto, Japan on November 10.

Deisseroth is the D.H. Chen Professor of Bioengineering and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, California, and the recipient of the 2017 NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award.

Svante Pääbo receives the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific and Research

Svante Pääbo has been granted the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific and Research for having developed precise methods to study ancient DNA that have permitted the recovery and analysis of the genome of species that disappeared hundreds of thousands of years ago.

Pääbo, recipient of the NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Award and director of the Department of Evolutionary Genetics at the Max Planck Institute, is one of the founders of paleogenetics and became best known for his pioneering research on the Neandertal genome. His work has enabled a better understanding of the recent evolution of numerous species, including humans. By sequencing of the Neanderthal genome, he discovered that genes from these and other extinct humans form part of the genetic pool of humanity. According to the Princess of Asturias Foundation jury,

“His discoveries force us to rewrite the history of our species.”

The Princess of Asturias Foundation convenes the Princess of Asturias Awards, which are presented at an academic ceremony held each year in Oviedo, capital of the Principality of Asturias. The Foundation’s aims are to contribute to extolling and promoting those scientific, cultural and humanistic values that form part of the universal heritage of humanity and to consolidate the existing links between the Principality of Asturias and the title traditionally held by the heirs to the Crown of Spain.

Janelle Ayres is finalist for 2018 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists

Janelle Ayres of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies has been named by the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists as one of 31 US national finalists for the world’s largest unrestricted prizes for early career scientists. Every year, three Blavatnik National Laureates in the categories of life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences & engineering are awarded $250,000 each.

The Blavatnik national finalists were selected from 286 outstanding faculty-rank researchers nominated by 146 institutions across 42 states. These institutions comprise the nation’s leading academic and research centers, and each is requested to name their single most promising candidate in one or all of the three categories.

Spearheaded by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and administered by the New York Academy of Sciences, the Blavatnik National Awards recognize both the past accomplishments and the future promise of the most talented scientific and engineering researchers aged 42 years and younger at America’s top academic and research institutions. The three 2018 National Laureates will be announced on June 27, 2018.

Working at the intersection of immunology and microbiology, Ayres’ pioneering research on host-pathogen interactions is redefining our understanding of health. Ayres’ discovery that microbes have evolved mechanisms to promote the health of the host to support their own survival reveals a beneficial role for microbes in maintenance of host health. Promoting host “tolerance” of microbes may offer a novel therapeutic approach to treating infections that is not reliant on antibiotics.

Ayres is associate professor at the NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis and the Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair at the Salk Institute. Located in La Jolla, California, Salk is an independent, not-for-profit organization dedicated to basic research in the biological sciences — and is one of the foremost institutions of its kind in the world.

Süddeutsche Zeitung: The meaning of poverty

NOMIS scientist Wolfgang Fengler of the World Data Lab (WDL) is making a case for an absolute reference value when it comes to assessing poverty. In his Süddeutsche Zeitung article, “Was Armut bedeutet” (“The meaning of poverty”), he shows how crucial the distinction between absolute and relative measures of income is when addressing poverty, which is why, on a global level, these different measures are incorporated in different development targets, namely poverty (Entwicklungsziel 1) and inequality (Entwicklungsziel 8). Blending these measures confuses the discussion: For example, in Germany, the at-risk-of-poverty threshold is measured relatively, counting those who have less than 60 percent of the national average income. In 2015, this was 1,033 euros per person per month. But if you take this amount as an absolute measure and compare it to income worldwide, a person with this income would be in the middle class. Which measure one takes in the end depends on one’s understanding of economical processes and on political preferences, but any informed discussion needs to be based on properly understood data.

Fengler is an economist at the World Bank in Vienna and part of the WDL, which, along with its research partners, will deploy new methods in data collection, data curation and dissemination, laying the groundwork to advance social and economic research on poverty in the most underdeveloped regions worldwide. NOMIS is funding their collaborative project, Converting Geospatial Observations into Socioeconomic Data, enabling the development of the first-ever sub-national income model for Kenya, which, when developed, can be subsequently adapted for other countries.

Didier Fassin, NOMIS Distinguished Scientist Awardee 2018

Didier Fassin is an anthropologist and sociologist whose work in medical anthropology has illuminated important issues about the AIDS epidemic, social inequalities in health and the changing landscape of global health. Initially trained as a physician, he practiced internal medicine and taught public health before turning to the social sciences. Having completed a Master’s degree at La Sorbonne and a PhD at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences, or EHESS), he eventually became professor at the University of Paris North and director of studies at EHESS, a position he still holds. He was the founding director of the Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Social Sciences (IRIS) at the National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) in Paris. In 2009, he was appointed the James D. Wolfensohn Professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, United States.

Fassin initially conducted studies in medical anthropology, focusing on issues of power and inequality. His research on the politics and experiences of AIDS in South Africa led him to develop the conceptual framework of the embodiment of history to account for the reproduction of social disparities and the production of heterodox interpretations of the epidemic. He launched a scientific program on global interventionism in various international contexts of conflicts and disasters, analyzing the implications of speaking of injustice as suffering, violence as trauma and resistance as resilience. He also investigated immigration and asylum policies as part of a collective project on borders and boundaries supported by the French National Agency for Research.

His approach to political and moral anthropology was implemented in a 10-year ethnography of the French state, conducting fieldwork on police, justice and prison, and developing the field of critical moral anthropology. His most recent inquiry is a critical engagement with philosophical approaches to punishment and to life. Fassin developed a theoretical reflection on the public presence of the social sciences, which he presented in his recipient lecture for the Gold Medal in anthropology at the Swedish Royal Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The NOMIS Distinguished Scientist and Scholar Award is enabling Fassin to implement the project Crisis: A Global Inquiry into the Contemporary Moment. The research will examine the ubiquity, in today’s world, of the notion of crisis, which has been applied to most domains of human life — social, economic, political, moral and cognitive. It will analyze how this pervasive presence of the language of crisis signals something about the present that is both objectively identifiable and subjectively experienced. It will explore, through a multi-sited study conducted on five continents and mobilizing different disciplines, the multiplicity of the forms of, and responses to, crises. This inquiry will thus be used as a way to push further the frontiers of the social sciences, both geographically, through an opening toward a global perspective, and epistemologically, through the encounter with neighboring fields.

For more information about Didier Fassin and his work, please see his faculty profile.