Jodi Nunnari, Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, is the recipient of the 2013 Academic Senate Faculty Research Lecturer Award. She will present her public lecture, "I Breathe for Mitochondria" on May 14.
A groundbreaking researcher who both mentors young scientists and pioneers new experimental techniques in her lab, Nunnari is an internationally recognized and highly regarded scholar for her works on the biology of mitochondria — organelles inside each eukaryotic cell that provide cells with energy.
Nunnari was selected for the peer-based honor after a unanimous vote by the Academic Senate.
"This award is really great because it's from my colleagues," Nunnari said. "It is an honor and pleasure to work with them, and being recognized by them is incredibly meaningful."
"We feel that Dr. Nunnari is also especially deserving of this award because of the high quality and rigor of her science, her innovative approaches to science, her groundbreaking studies, her fearless determination in discovery, and her outstanding mentorship to young scientists both locally and at a national and international level," wrote Professor Ted Powers, chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and Professor Joanne Engebrecht in their nominating letter.
Early in her research career, Nunnari published results that revolutionized the way cell biologists view the mitochondria in living cells. The previous textbook notion of cellular mitochondria as static, discrete populations of separate entities has been replaced through her discovery that mitochondria are dynamic networks that are the consequence of frequent separation events (called fissions) and joining events (called fusions). Depending on the relative rates of fission and fusion, the mitochondria of a cell can constitute many smaller entities, or can combine into a fewer larger structures. Major biology textbooks have now adopted her discovery.
In her lecture, Nunnari will share her passion for researching mitochondria and talk about why they are central players both in the evolution of life and human health. Mutations in mitochondrial DNA can cause disease such as stroke, eye problems, deafness, and diseases of the heart, kidney and liver.
"I am hopeful that with the advent of new tools in genomics and large-scale analysis, we will begin to unravel what happens with these diseases and develop therapeutics," she said.
Nunnari is known for finding the best experimental approach to answer her questions and innovating to develop new approaches that are needed to advance her field. Another hallmark of her work is her dedication to her junior colleagues.
"As a first year junior faculty, I am deeply indebted to Jodi for her close mentoring," wrote Jawdat Al Bassam, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology. "Jodi has such a generosity with her time for her colleagues beyond that of an person I have seen throughout my career at Scripps, Harvard Medical School or UC Davis."
Open to the public, the 2013 Academic Senate Faculty Research Lecture will begin at 7:15 p.m. on May 14 in the Activities and Recreation Center Ballrooms.
Betsy Towner is a writer for the College of Biological Sciences.