Submitted by Patricia M. Allen

March 18, 2008
Contact: Caroline Jenkins Hanna
Director of Media Relations


AMHERST, Mass.—Amherst College’s Michael Hood, professor of biology, has received a prestigious Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The five-year, $690,000 prize will enable Hood to continue his research on disease transmission and genomics—studies that may one day better explain how common illnesses function.

“I am extremely pleased and flattered to have been recognized with this award,” said Hood. “Perhaps more importantly, though, I am excited for the research it will enable me to conduct.” Added Gregory S. Call, dean of the faculty at Amherst: “As Michael so aptly demonstrates, members of the college’s faculty are committed to cutting-edge scholarship and, when and wherever possible, to inspiring our students to contribute to it.” 

The funding will support a project of Hood’s exploring the fungus Microbrytrum, which, though harmless in humans, causes a common infectious disease in plants. Hood and his team of Amherst undergraduate students will let the anther smut, as it is called, progress in flowers in his lab and greenhouse and study the disease as it spreads from one plant to another. They will also examine its novel genomic properties and the evolution of its chromosome structure as it runs its course.

By observing the anther smut as it interacts with its host, said Hood, he and his team aim to develop a model for disease that can be applied to biologically similar human illnesses, such as sexually transmitted diseases. “This is a great way to painlessly shed some light some illnesses that cause quite a bit of misery among men and women today,” he explained. “It is also a wonderful opportunity to get Amherst undergraduates excited about careers in research and evolutionary biology.”

The NSF is an independent U.S. government agency responsible for promoting science and engineering through programs that invest over $3.3 billion per year in almost 20,000 research and education projects in science and engineering.

According to its Web site, the Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program supports “the early career-development activities of those teacher-scholars who most effectively integrate research and education within the context of the mission of their organization.” Such activities should build a firm foundation for a lifetime of integrated contributions to research and education.

Hood received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Virginia. He earned a doctorate from North Carolina State University and completed post-doctoral work at Duke University and the University of Virginia. He joined the Amherst faculty in 2006.