U-M ecologist wins prestigious award for young scientists

December 4, 2014

Chelsea WoodChelsea WoodANN ARBOR—University of Michigan disease ecologist Chelsea Wood has been awarded a 2014 Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists. Her winning essay will be published online in the journal Science.

Wood studies the ecology of parasites and pathogens in marine and freshwater ecosystems. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and a fellow in the Michigan Society of Fellows.

Her winning essay, “Environmental change and the ecology of infectious disease,” describes her dissertation work, which investigated how biodiversity loss can change the composition of parasite assemblages and patterns of disease transmission.

“I’m honored to receive this award, and I think it reflects growing recognition of the importance of ecological processes in the transmission of infectious diseases,” Wood said.

The Science & SciLifeLab Prize for Young Scientists recognizes early-career scientists. It includes a grand-prize award of $25,000 and three “category winner” awards of $3,000. Wood won in the environment category and will receive her prize Dec. 9 in Stockholm, Sweden.

The annual prize is supported by Science for Life Laboratory, a Swedish national center for molecular biosciences with a focus on health and environmental research, and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation in collaboration with the journal Science, which is published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a nonprofit international science society.

Applicants for this year’s award submitted a 1,000-word essay in one of four categories: cell and developmental biology, genomics and proteomics, environment, and translational medicine.

The essays were judged by an independent editorial team organized by Science. Judges evaluated the quality of the applicants’ research and their ability to articulate how their work contributes to the scientific field. Winners in each category competed for the grand prize.

The winner of the 2014 grand prize is Liron Bar-Peled of the Scripps Research Institute, who entered the cell and developmental biology category. Simon Johnson of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine won in the translational medicine category. Dan Dominissini of the University of Chicago won in the genomics and proteomics category. The winners were announced today.

“Science is pleased to partner with SciLifeLab to recognize the most promising young researchers conducting groundbreaking life-science research of both fundamental and practical importance to our health and quality of life,” said Marcia McNutt, editor-in-chief of Science. “These early career awards provide a big career boost to rising talent when they need it most.”

U-M’s Wood received a doctorate in ecology, evolution and population biology from Stanford University in 2013 and a bachelor’s in ecology and evolutionary biology from Dartmouth College in 2006.

Her research focuses on two fundamental questions. First, what are the effects of anthropogenic environmental change on the abundance, diversity, distribution and transmission of parasites and pathogens? Second, how can we harness our knowledge of the ecological dimensions of disease transmission to alleviate human disease burdens in the developing world?

She addresses these questions with empirical work in marine and freshwater ecosystems. Her projects include a large-scale study of the parasite assemblages of coral reef fishes in the central Pacific and a whole-ecosystem experiment in ponds of central California.

“Despite the strong influence of environment on many pathogens, considerable uncertainty exists as to whether and how anthropogenic environmental change affects disease risk,” Wood said. “Does loss of biodiversity generally increase or decrease disease agent transmission? As human impacts on ecosystems accumulate and the perceived threat of zoonotic disease grows, answers to this question are urgently needed.”


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