WOODS HOLE, MA— Dianne K. Newman, Professor of Biology and Geobiology at California Institute of Technology, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, and Course Director of the Microbial Diversity course at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), has been named a 2016 MacArthur Fellow. Newman is a microbiologist who merges methods and approaches from disparate fields to investigate the co-evolution of bacteria and their environments, from the ancient Earth to the human body.
Newman was awarded a $625,000 “no-strings-attached” grant by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The MacArthur Fellowship, commonly known as a ‘genius award,’ is presented to “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction, ” according to the Foundation’s website.
Newman’s research focuses on understanding the coevolution of microbial metabolism and environmental chemistry. The contexts that motivate her research span ancient sedimentary deposits to chronic infections. Her work is helping to reshape interpretations of ancient molecular fossils as well as redox-active “secondary” metabolites.
Newman first got hooked on microbiology when she was an engineering graduate student at MIT, after she met a Microbial Diversity alumna who was isolating bacterial strains from a Boston watershed. According to Newman, her MIT advisor generously said, “‘Look, if you are really excited about bacteria, you should go to Woods Hole and take that course,’ I did, and it completely changed my life.”
After her student experience in Microbial Diversity, Newman came back as a teaching assistant and later as a course faculty member, before being named a Course Director in 2014. On several occasions she obtained isolates in Woods Hole that became important model organisms in her Caltech lab.
“The Laboratory is indeed fortunate to have such extraordinary leaders in research and education as Dianne,” said Jonathan Gitlin, Director, MBL Division of Research. “She is indefatigable in her passion for science and the MBL and we congratulate her for this much deserved recognition.”
The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.