NIEHS grantee Trudy Mackay, Ph.D., geneticist at North Carolina State University, has won the prestigious Wolf Prize. Each year, Israel’s Wolf Foundation recognizes individuals in several scientific and artistic disciplines. On Jan. 13, Mackay was named the 2016 winner for agriculture.
According to an NCSU press release, the Wolf Prize is one of the world’s most prestigious awards for academic achievement, and several winners have gone on to win a Nobel Prize. The international committee that selected Mackay cited her “pioneering studies on the genetic architecture of complex traits and the discovery of fundamental principles of quantitative genetics with broad applications for agricultural improvements.”
“The Wolf Prize brings well-deserved recognition to the groundbreaking work Mackay has done, and continues to do, in complex trait genetics” said Lisa Chadwick, Ph.D., health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Genes, Environment, and Health Branch.
The genetic basis of sensitivity to lead exposure
Mackay’s career has focused largely on Drosophila melanogaster, a fruit fly widely used in genetic research, with particular interest in quantitative, or complex, traits. Studies of such traits have been aided by a freely available resource, the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel, which Mackay, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, helped create. It contains more than 200 fruit fly genetic lines that are fully sequenced.
“The strains in the panel are derived from wild strains isolated around Raleigh, North Carolina,” Chadwick explained. “Each strain is inbred, so they are all genetically identical within a strain, but because they were derived from wild strains, there is a lot of genetic diversity across the panel as a whole.”
With NIEHS funding, Mackay and her collaborators are carrying out an exploratory study of lead toxicity. “By using this fly genetic resource for exposure studies, they hope to identify genetic variations linked with sensitivity to lead exposure,” Chadwick said.