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  • André Hoelz
    Credit: Courtesy of A. Hoelz
  • Alexei Aravin
    Credit: Courtesy of A. Aravin
09/22/2016 10:04:19

Aravin and Hoelz Named HHMI Faculty Scholars

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Simons Foundation, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation today announced the selection of 84 Faculty Scholars, early career scientists who "have great potential to make unique contributions to their field," according to the press release from the three philanthropies. Caltech's Alexei Aravin, professor of biology, and André Hoelz, professor of chemistry and Heritage Principal Investigator, are among those named. This year is the inaugural year of the Faculty Scholars program, with more than 1,400 faculty applicants throughout the United States.

Alexei Aravin's previous research led to the discovery of a group of small, non-coding RNAs called piRNAs that protect germ cells against mutations caused by transposons—segments of genetic material that undergo relocation within the genome. Now, Aravin is studying the molecular mechanisms behind the piRNA pathway to understand how piRNAs are produced.

"I am honored and excited about having been selected for such a prestigious award," says Aravin. "I am looking forward to branching into and exploring new directions in RNA biology."

André Hoelz studies the nuclear pore complex (NPC), the gateway to the cellular compartment which contains our DNA. Earlier this year, Hoelz and his team solved the structure of the NPC, revealing the location of its approximately 10 million atoms. In addition to understanding normal transport through the NPC, Hoelz and his group also study how genetic mutations or foreign factors such as viral components cause NPC dysfunction and human disease.

"It is a tremendous honor to have been selected as a HHMI Faculty Scholar in this rigorous national competition," Hoelz says. "The flexible funding will allow us to pursue high-risk-high-reward research directions that are not traditionally supported by governmental agencies."

Collectively, HHMI, Simons, and the Gates Foundation will grant about $83 million to these scientists in total, ranging from $600,000 to $1.8 million over five years.

"We are very excited to welcome these accomplished scientists into the HHMI community," said HHMI President Erin O'Shea in the press release. "We're equally gratified to work alongside our philanthropic partners to help these early-career scientists move science forward by pursuing their bold ideas."

Written by Lorinda Dajose