Luciano Marraffini, an assistant professor and head of the Laboratory of Bacteriology, has been named a finalist in the life sciences by the Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, the New York Academy of Sciences announced on May 20.
Marraffini, who studies the CRISPR-Cas systems that enable some bacteria to acquire immunity against viruses, is among 32 scientists selected from 300 nominations of highly qualified faculty researchers from 147 of the nation’s leading academic and research institutions.
Since 2007, the Blavatnik awards, which recognize and support America’s top young scientific innovators, have honored scientists in the New York City area. Beginning in 2014, the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, which administers the awards, expanded the faculty portion of the program to include young scientists across the United States. The national awards have three categories: life sciences, physical sciences and engineering, and chemistry. Each year, one finalist in each category will be awarded $250,000 in unrestricted funds.
CRISPR-Cas systems, the focus of Marraffini’s work, make it possible for bacteria and other microbes to acquire immunity against viruses by capturing snippets of their DNA. Dr. Marraffini investigates the molecular mechanisms that make CRISPR immunity possible, as well as its evolutionary implications. His lab also explores potential applications for CRISPR-Cas systems, which can be used to make precisely targeted cuts in any genome.
“Luciano’s work has illuminated new nuances in the ongoing war between bacteria and the viruses that infect them, as well as suggested potentially powerful biotechnological applications, such as antibiotics that selectively target harmful microbes,” says Marc Tessier-Lavigne, the university’s president. “I am proud to see Luciano recognized for this important work by the Blavatnik Foundation.”
Marraffini, a native of Argentina, received his undergraduate degree from the University of Rosario in Argentina and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2007. He was a postdoc at Northwestern University from 2008 to 2010, when he joined Rockefeller as assistant professor. In 2014, Cell named him one of its “40 Under 40.” He is a 2012 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar and a 2011 Searle Scholar, and is the recipient of a 2012 NIH Director’s New Innovator Award, a 2010 RNA Society Award, a 2009 Nestle Award, and a 2008 Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research fellowship.
Marraffini is the first Rockefeller scientist to be selected as a finalist for the National Awards. Numerous Rockefeller researchers, including most recently postdoc Stephen Brohawn, have been selected as finalists or laureates for the Regional Awards.