Vanessa Ruta honored with McKnight Scholar Award

Vanessa RutaVanessa Ruta, assistant professor at The Rockefeller University and head of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology and Behavior, has been honored with a McKnight Scholar Award for her research on the functional organization of the neural circuits underlying olfactory learning.

The 2012 awards, presented by the McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience, were given to six early-career scientists who have established their own independent laboratories and who have demonstrated a commitment to neuroscience. The Endowment Fund especially seeks applicants working on problems that, if solved at the basic level, would have an immediate and significant impact on clinically relevant issues.

Ruta in interested in the means by which circuits in the brain can be modified by experience. One aspect of her research looks at how sensation is converted to action at the molecular level by studying the mechanism of odorant signaling in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. The Ruta lab is performing biochemical, electrophysiological and structural studies on insect odorant receptors to reveal the mechanism that couples the binding of odorant ligands to ion flux in this large and diverse family of membrane proteins.

Ruta received her B.A. in chemistry from Hunter College and her Ph.D. from Rockefeller University in 2005, where she was a member of Roderick MacKinnon’s laboratory. She conducted postdoctoral research in Richard Axel’s laboratory at Columbia University and joined Rockefeller as assistant professor in 2011. Ruta received a Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellowship in 2007, the Harold M. Weintraub Graduate Student Award in 2005 and a David Rockefeller Fellowship in 2003.

The McKnight Scholars will each receive $75,000 per year for three years. The Endowment Fund is an independent charitable organization established by The McKnight Foundation to carry out the wishes of its founder, William L. McKnight (1887-1979), who led the 3M company for three decades and had a personal interest in memory and its diseases. He set aside part of his legacy to support research for those suffering from brain injury or disease and cognitive impairment.

Ruta is one of seven Rockefeller faculty who have won the award, including Roderick MacKinnon, Ali Brivanlou, Winrich Freiwald and Leslie Vosshall.

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