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Two Rockefeller faculty become new HHMI investigators

Two Rockefeller faculty members, Paul D. Bieniasz and Leslie B. Vosshall, are among 56 biomedical scientists nationwide chosen to become Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators this year. The new appointments bring the total number of HHMI investigators at the university to 14.

HHMI investigators receive stable financial support for their research over a period of several years, allowing them to conduct high-risk research and follow their ideas through to fruition. Though HHMI investigators remain at their institutions, the institute pays their salaries and funds a substantial portion of their research.

Paul Bieniasz is associate professor at the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, a Rockefeller University affiliate, where he has worked since 1999. His research explores the mechanisms underlying virus-host interactions, focusing on how HIV replicates in human cells, and his discoveries have deepened our understanding of the intricate exchange between HIV and the white blood cells it infects.

Leslie Vosshall, Chemers Family Associate Professor and head of the Laboratory of Neurogenetics and Behavior, probes the molecular and neural mechanisms behind how organisms, from fruit flies to humans, sense smells, and how this sense affects behavior. Recent work in her lab has created a nearly complete map of the fruit fly’s olfactory system and has identified proteins in mosquitoes that detect carbon dioxide. She joined Rockefeller as assistant professor in 2000.

“Being selected as an HHMI investigator is a tremendous honor, and only the brightest and most exceptional scientists make the cut,” says Paul Nurse, the university’s president. “This recognition of Leslie and Paul as among the best in their fields is deeply gratifying.”

HHMI chose the 56 scientists from among 1,070 applications submitted in a nationwide competition, which was announced in 2007. Researchers with 4 to 10 years of experience as faculty members at more than 200 institutions were eligible to apply. To evaluate the applications, HHMI assembled review panels of distinguished biomedical scientists. This is the first time that HHMI has opened up a general competition to the direct application process.

Bieniasz and Vosshall will be among approximately 300 other HHMI investigators based around the country.

Howard Hughes Medical Institute