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Schmitz nominated for Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists

Alan Flurry

University of Georgia faculty member Robert Schmitz was recently chosen as a finalist for a national award for young scientists. The Blavatnik National Awards for Young Scientists is the world’s largest unrestricted prize honoring early career scientists and engineers.

Schmitz is a plant biologist who performs groundbreaking research on plant epigenetics—the chemical modifications to DNA and associated proteins that alter gene expression—to unlock new methods to increase agricultural sustainability and food security. He found that some plant epigenetic mechanisms differ from those of animals, and that this unique mode of epigenetic modification impacts plant evolution and can inform crop breeding.

His discoveries in the epigenetics of maize offer plant breeders targets in the maize genome to improve crop performance, such as overall yield or resistance to disease. Schmitz’s work, as described in the Blavatnik Awards finalists announcement, has set in motion the discovery and creation of new plant biotechnology that could help feed the world.

The honorees were chosen from a highly competitive pool of 309 nominees from 150 leading universities and scientific institutions from 38 states across the United States.

From the announced group of finalists, three winners—in life sciences, chemistry, and physical sciences and engineering—will be named on June 29, each receiving $250,000 as a Blavatnik National Awards Laureate.

“I am thankful for this recognition and grateful to past and present lab members that have advanced our understanding of plant epigenetics,” said Schmitz, who holds a UGA Foundation Professorship of Plant Sciences and is the Lars G. Ljungdahl Distinguished Investigator. “We are fortunate to work alongside so many great colleagues in the department of genetics at the University of Georgia.”

Image: Professor Bob Schmitz with plants in his epigenetics laboratory. (Photo by Peter Frey/UGA)

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