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Princess of Asturias Awards

06/05/2019

Joanne Chory and Sandra Myrna Díaz Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research

Plant biologists Joanne Chory (USA) and Sandra Myrna Díaz (Argentina) have been bestowed with the 2019 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as announced today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award. 

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Plant biologists Joanne Chory (USA) and Sandra Myrna Díaz (Argentina) have been bestowed with the 2019 Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research, as announced today in Oviedo by the Jury responsible for conferring said Award.

The Jury for the Award –convened by the Princess of Asturias Foundation– was chaired by Pedro Miguel Echenique Landiríbar and composed of Jesús A. del Álamo, Juan Luis Arsuaga Ferreras, Alicia Asín Pérez, César Cernuda Rego, Juan Ignacio Cirac Sasturáin, Miguel Delibes de Castro, Elena García Armada, Clara Grima Ruiz, Amador Menéndez Velázquez, Sir Salvador Moncada, Ginés Morata Pérez, Enrique Moreno González, Adriana Ocampo Uría, Peregrina Quintela Estévez, Inés Rodríguez Hidalgo, Manuel Toharia Cortés, María Vallet Regí and Santiago García Granda (as acting secretary).

This candidature was put forward by Juan Carlos del Olmo, member of the Jury for the 2019 Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation.

The work carried out separately by biologists Joanne Chory and Sandra M. Díaz has placed them at the forefront of new lines of research that with major future implications in the fight against climate change and its effects, as well as in the defence of biodiversity.

Joanne Chory (Methuen, USA, 19th March 1955) graduated with a degree in Biology from Oberlin College (Ohio) and obtained her PhD in Microbiology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1984. She was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard and joined the Salk Institute in 1988, where she has occupied various posts, including that of head of research and director of the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology Laboratory. She has been a researcher at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute since 1997 and an associate professor at the University of California San Diego since 1999. Her field of research has focused on the study of regulatory mechanisms in plants, from the molecular to the cellular level, as well as plant reactions to environmental conditions of stress. To conduct her research, she has used Arabidopsis thaliana as a model organism, revealing important aspects of the genes involved in functions such as sensitivity to light, the hormones that regulate plant growth and the response to hydric stress. Her contributions regarding the role of phytochrome, a vegetable protein sensitive to red and infrared light, and the coregulation of genes involved in photosynthesis are highly acclaimed.

She also studies the development of plants capable of absorbing up to 20 times more carbon dioxide from the air than normal plants and leads the Salk Institute’s Harnessing Plant Initiative. Employing the most innovative genetic editing techniques, such as CRISPR, this research project combats global warming –and hence climate change– by optimizing the natural capacity of plants to capture and store carbon dioxide and to adapt to different climatic conditions.

Her work has been distinguished with the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and the Gruber Prize in Genetics, among others. She is an elected Foreign Member of The Royal Society (2011 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities), as well as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the French Academy of Sciences, among other institutions. According to Google Scholar, her publications have been cited more than 60 000 times, with an h-index of 124.

Sandra Myrna Díaz (Bell Ville, Argentina, 27th October 1961) graduated with a degree in Biology from the National University of Córdoba (Argentina) in 1984, obtaining her PhD from the same university in 1989. Between 1985 and 1991, she was a research fellow at the Centre for Ecology and Renewable Natural Resources at the aforementioned university and subsequently joined the University of Sheffield (UK) as a postdoctoral research associate. She returned to the University of Córdoba in 1993, where, among other posts, she is Professor of Community and Ecosystem Ecology and a senior researcher at the Multidisciplinary Institute of Plant Biology (IMBIV-CONICET). She has also participated in reports and activities carried out by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Convention on Biological Diversity.

Specializing in botany and considered a reference figure in the field of ecology, she has participated in the development of a methodological tool to quantify the effects and benefits of plant biodiversity and the plant ecology of ecosystems and their exploitation for fuel, materials, medicines, dyes, food, water protection and other contributions, as well as the role of biodiversity in counteracting global change, for example, through atmospheric carbon sequestration.

She is an elected member of the United States National Academy of Sciences and the French Academy of Sciences, as well as an elected Foreign Member of The Royal Society (2011 Prince of Asturias Award for Communication and Humanities), among other institutions. She has received numerous awards, most notably including the Platinum Konex Prizes in Biology and Ecology, the Zayed International Prize for the Environment, the Bernardo Houssay Award and the Ramon Margalef Prize in Ecology. According to Google Scholar, her publications have been cited more than 40 000 times, with an h-index of 81.

As stated in the Regulations, the Princess of Asturias Awards are aimed at rewarding “the scientific, technical, cultural, social and humanitarian work carried out at an international level by individuals, institutions or groups of individuals or institutions”. In keeping with these principles, the Princess of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research shall be aimed at recognizing “the work of fostering and advancing research in the field of mathematics, astronomy and astrophysics, physics, chemistry, life sciences, medical sciences, earth and space sciences or technological sciences, including those disciplines corresponding to each of these fields as well as their related technologies.”

This year, a total of 46 candidates from 23 different countries were nominated for the award.

This is the seventh of eight Princess of Asturias Awards to be bestowed this year, now in their thirty-ninth edition. Previously, the Princess of Asturias Award for the Arts went to theatre director Peter Brook, the Princess of Asturias Awards for Communication and Humanities to The Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado), the Princess of Asturias Award for International Cooperation was granted to Salman Khan and the Khan Academy, the Princess of Asturias Award for Sports went to skier Lindsey Vonn, the Princess of Asturias Award for Literature was conferred on writer Siri Hustvedt, while the Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences went to sociologist Alejandro Portes.

The Princess of Asturias Award for Concord will be announced next week.

Each of the Princess of Asturias Awards comprises a Joan Miró sculpture representing and symbolizing the Awards, a cash prize of 50,000 euros, a diploma and an insignia. The awards will be presented in the autumn in Oviedo at a solemn ceremony presided over by TM The King and Queen of Spain.

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