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BYU Professor Wins Top NSF Award for Young Faculty

His research will help the scientific community understand the mystery of how and why different bacteria cause different effects.

Two CAREER grants total more than $1 million

The National Science Foundation recently awarded two BYU professors the CAREER award, an honor given to the most promising junior faculty in the nation who are recognized as outstanding teachers, scholars and researchers. Joel Griffitts, microbiology and molecular biology, and Thomas Knotts, chemical engineering, will receive grants totaling more than $1 million for their research projects.

Understanding the useful nature of bacteria

Most people see bacteria as something to be quickly eradicated with disinfectant or medicine, but some bacterial strains are actually beneficial to organisms. Courtesy of a five-year, $650,000 grant, Griffitts is trying to determine what makes a given bacterial strain harmful or beneficial.

For example, a soil bacterium called rhizobia can have positive effects for certain plants in the legume family and damaging effects for others. Scientists have traced this difference to a particular set of genes, but the biological process that determines whether the bacteria will be helpful or harmful is still largely a mystery.

Griffitts has done similar work in the past, like this paper published in Science, but this research will help the scientific community understand the mystery of how and why different bacteria cause different effects.

“This award shows that the NSF has recognized the scientific ideas we are working on as being worthy of significant support,” Griffitts said. “It also shows that BYU will continue to provide a good environment where research and education can work together to prepare younger scientists to take on the responsibility of doing high quality and responsible science.”

Griffitts will also be training local high school teachers and students so they can also learn about and participate in the research.

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This article is compiled of excerpts taken from the BYU News article, found here .