UGA plant biologist named finalist for prestigious 2022 Blavatnik National Award | Campus News

University of Georgia plant biologist Robert Schmitz was recently chosen as a finalist for the 2022 Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists, the world’s largest unrestricted prize honoring early-career scientists and engineers, according to an article from UGA Today.

Chosen from a pool of 309 nominees from 150 top universities and institutions across 38 states, these awards are known for both their exclusivity and their high distinction.

To be qualified as an award candidate, winners must be faculty-level scientific researchers, 42 years of age or younger, and be nominated to the competition by their university or research institution.

Schmitz works for UGA as a plant biologist and performs groundbreaking research on plant epigenetics. In his study of chemical modifications to DNA and associated proteins that alter gene expression, Schmitz has been searching for new ways and methods to increase agricultural sustainability and food security.

In his research, Schmitz has discovered that certain paths of epigenetic modification impact plant evolution and can inform crop breeding. Schmitz’s study of maize crop specifically now offers plant breeders knowledge of attributes in the maize genome that can be targeted to improve crop performance, increase overall crop yield, and increase maize’s resistance to disease.

As described by the Blavatnik Awards finalists’ announcement, this work has sparked an understanding of plant biotechnology that could help feed the world.

“I am thankful for this recognition and grateful to past and present lab members that have advanced our understanding of plant epigenetics,” said Schmitz as referenced in an article from the University news outlet UGAToday. “We are fortunate to work alongside so many great colleagues in the department of genetics at the University of Georgia.”

On June 19, one award winner will be chosen by an independent jury from the pool of finalists in three individual categories. The award winners from the categories of life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering will total the three overall award recipients, then each deemed a Blavatnik National Awards Laureate and awarded a $ 250,000 prize.

“Schmitz was clearly a rising star in the field of epigenetics since his initial hire at Uga,” said Nancy Manley, a research professor and head of the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of genetics. “This award reflects what we already know — that his creativity, productivity and leadership while a faculty member at UGA promises even more great things in the future.”

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