Research on the sense of smell wins Eppendorf & Science Prize 2009
All animals derive essential information from a wealth of different odor signals in their environment. Insects have particularly sophisticated “noses” that allow detection of food, warn of danger and play an important role in many social interactions such as courtship behavior. Dr. Richard Benton, Assistant Professor at the Center for Integrative Genomics, University of Lausanne, Switzerland has won the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology 2009 for his research on how insects sense volatile chemical signals.
Dr. Benton’s studies have focused on the olfactory receptors of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. His work has revealed unexpected evolutionary parallels between insect chemosensation, immune recognition and synaptic transmission. Dr. Benton has shown that insects have invented unusual molecular mechanisms to detect smells, “borrowing” molecules that, in other animals, allow neurons to communicate with each other or act in the immune system to detect bacteria. Dr. Benton writes, “Our discoveries demonstrate that animal nervous systems can evolve very different solutions to the same problem of sensory detection. By targeting these unusual molecular mechanisms with specific chemical inhibitors, it may be possible to control the odor-evoked behaviors of insects that transmit human diseases such as malaria.”
According to Dr. Axel Jahns at Eppendorf headquarters in Hamburg, “Sponsored jointly by Eppendorf and the prestigious journal Science, this international US$25,000 prize is open to scientists of 35 years of age or younger who have made outstanding contributions to neurobiological research using molecular and cell biology methods. Dr. Richard Benton was selected as the winner of the Eppendorf & Science Prize 2009 by a committee of distinguished scientists chaired by Dr. Peter Stern, Senior Editor of Science. The presentation took place in Chicago, USA on October 19, 2009 at a gala dinner for over 80 guests from the scientific community.”
The next deadline for applications for the Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology is June 15, 2010. For more information about Dr. Benton and the Prize, visit www.eppendorf.com/prize.