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Molly Burke

Evolutionary biologist wins National Institutes of Health award

By Hannah Ashton

Molly Burke, assistant professor in the Department of Integrative Biology, has received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) — a unique grant that will support multiple projects focused on aging and infertility.

“It is a huge honor to receive this award, and I am excited about all the research that it will make possible,” Burke said.

The five-year award of $1.8 million supports early-stage investigators by providing a flexible umbrella of support, increasing productivity and the chance for significant discoveries. Because the grant is not restricted to a single project, Burke can use it to follow up on any exciting or unexpected findings.

Burke’s lab uses yeast, a popular model organism in biology research, to test hypotheses about how complex traits evolve. These traits are influenced by both genetics and the environment and most human diseases, or the risk of developing one, are complex traits. Aging and infertility are the traits the lab will focus on primarily for this award.

Untangling the genetic basis underlying these traits, starting with yeast, will lead to a better understanding of complex disease-related phenotypes in human beings.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the agency within NIH sponsoring this award, focuses on supporting research that increases understanding of biological processes and lays the foundation for progressing disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Awards like this not only help support material costs but also allow researchers to support graduate students and postdoctoral trainees, helping to advance their scientific careers, Burke said. She is also looking forward to using the funds to network and possibly collaborate with other scientists at research conferences.