Alvaro Sanchez, assistant professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has been awarded a 2019 Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, one of the largest nongovernmental fellowships in the United States.
Sanchez, who is a member of the Microbial Sciences Institute, will receive $875,000 over 5 years to fund his research, which takes an innovative approach to understanding the complex system of microbial communities. Sanchez’ fellowship was announced October 15, along with 22 other fellowships for promising, early-career scientists.
“Alvaro has made an enormous contribution to an entirely new discipline - studying the relationship between the evolution of microbial behavior and microbial ecology,” said Thomas Near, Chair of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) and curator of the ichthyology collection at the Peabody Museum of Natural History. “His work is of fundamental relevance to establishing first principles of microbial networks and their community dynamics. That he is the first scientist at the EEB Department to receive this most prestigious award is testament to the creativity of Alvaro’s research program.”
The David and Lucile Packard Foundation established the fellowships in 1988. Each year, the foundation invites universities to nominate two faculty members for consideration in the following disciplines — physics, chemistry, mathematics, biology, astronomy, computer science, earth science, ocean science, and all branches of engineering.
The fellowships provide the nation’s most promising early-career scientists and engineers with flexible funding and the freedom to take risks and explore new frontiers in their fields of study. They afford recipients the chance to pursue their research with few funding restrictions and limited reporting requirements.
The individual behavior of a microbial cell often depends on what other cells close by are doing. Much like animals, microbes implement social strategies, encoding these in their DNA. Evolutionary changes affect ecological interactions between species and are therefore an essential component of microbial communities. This relationship, between the evolution of microbial behavior and microbial ecology, provides the focus for Sanchez’ research.
“My ultimate goal is to develop a quantitative predictive theory of microbiome assembly and its ecological and evolutionary dynamics,” said Sanchez. “Support from the Packard Foundation will really help us to combine mathematical and computational modeling with quantitative experiments to ask tackle fundamental questions about microbial communities.”
By Jon Atherton