Biological sciences professor elected into National Academy of Sciences
Observer Staff Report | Monday, May 4, 2020
An expert in the genomics of malaria vectors and the O’Hara professor in the department of biological sciences, Nora J. Besansky has been elected membership in the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), according to a Monday press release.
In order to better understand the relationship between malaria-transmitting mosquitoes and their environments, Besansky’s lab studies the closely related Anopheles species. Her research focuses on determining how chromosome structural rearrangements and the transfer of genes between species allow for enhanced disease transmission.
“A key to this puzzle is ‘ecological plasticity,’ which allows the mosquitoes to thrive and be efficient vectors in a wide variety of environments, whether they are found in rainforests or in semi-deserts,” the release said. “Fully understanding the evolutionary, ecological and functional genomics of malaria vectors will allow scientists to develop new control strategies that can interrupt transmission of the disease.”
Besansky received her bachelor’s degree from Oberlin College, followed by her doctoral degree from Yale University. After working as a staff scientist for the Centers for Disease Control and as an associate professor in the department of biology at Emory University, she was hired as an associate professor at Notre Dame in 1997.
To make genomic resources available for more than 16 malaria vectors, Besanksy worked on two international genome sequencing and analysis projects sponsored by the National Institutes of Health. Having published over 140 papers during her career, the press release said Besanksy’s research has also been supported by the World Health Organization and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
When Besansky received news of her election in the NAS, she was initially taken by surprise.
“My first thought was one of disbelief,” she said in the press release. “My second thought was gratitude for my numerous students, trainees, mentors, collaborators and support team, without whom this would have been impossible.
“And the third thought is a feeling of great responsibility, given the mission that the NAS is charged with. It’s a great opportunity for me. I will be in the company of giants — with people I never thought I would rub shoulders with.”