Martin Jonikas: 2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science

Martin Jonikas: 2020 Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science


– Our world is facing major challenges in food production and
the global carbon cycle. Our demands for food
are constantly growing and yet agriculture is having major impact on our environment. My family is originally from Poland and I was born in Paris. I came to the U.S. when
I was eight years old. I didn’t speak English and so I felt a little bit out of place. I went to college to study
aerospace engineering. I was forced to take a
molecular biology class which open my eyes to the reality that the most wonderful and
the most amazing machines on the planet are living organisms. My lab studies algae. It turns out that algae
have invented mechanism called the pyrenoid, that
allows them to suck CO2 out of their environment
much more efficiently than many land plants. Until very recently we’ve
known almost nothing about how it works and that’s what my lab
seeks to understand. Engineering a pyrenoid
into major global crops like rice and wheat could
help them produce more food with fewer resources. We wouldn’t need to cut
down any more forests to feed the growing
demands of the population. Our lab has a tradition
of hosting scientists from around the world. Having a diversity of backgrounds helps us be more creative, productive, and we like to have fun. My dream is to leave this
world a slightly better place than when I found it.

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