Academics & Faculty

UCLA life scientist Elissa Hallem awarded MacArthur 'genius' grant

UCLA life scientist Elissa Hallem has been selected as a 2012 MacArthur Fellow in recognition of her "exceptional merit and promise of continued creative work," the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced.
Hallem is among 23 new recipients of the annual "genius" fellowship, each of whom will receive $100,000 a year in unrestricted support over the next five years.
"I'm incredibly honored to have received a MacArthur Fellowship, and I'm very grateful to the MacArthur Foundation for making this investment in my work," said Hallem, an assistant professor of microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics and a member of UCLA's Molecular Biology Institute.
Hallem's laboratory studies the interactions between animal parasites and their hosts. She and her research team focus on parasitic nematodes, commonly known as roundworms, and another tiny worm known as Caenorhabditis elegans in their research. They study the neurobiology of host–seeking behavior, including the neural circuits and signaling pathways that underlie parasitic nematodes' ability to detect and respond to olfactory cues from a host. They are also exploring the responses of C. elegans to these same host olfactory cues to better understand how the nervous system of a parasite differs from that of a free-living animal.
In addition, Hallem's laboratory is studying hosts' immune response to nematode infection. For this research, she and her research team use insect-parasitic nematodes as a model parasite and the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model host.
"Elissa's research takes a novel approach to study the neural circuitry of odor-driven behaviors that allow parasitic nematodes to find their hosts," said Victoria Sork, dean of the UCLA Life Sciences Division. "Her findings provide critical details for understanding human parasitic diseases."
"Elissa's work is wonderfully interdisciplinary," said Jeffery F. Miller, a professor and chair of the UCLA Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics, who holds UCLA's M. Philip Davis Chair in Microbiology and Immunology. "She is addressing a fundamental problem in host–parasite interactions using a combination of genetics, neurobiology and behavioral studies that is unique in the field of pathogenesis. We are fortunate to have been able to recruit her to UCLA."
Nominations for MacArthur Fellowships are accepted only from invited nominators, who identify people who demonstrate "exceptional creativity and promise."
Hallem was also among 15 exceptional scientists selected in April to be 2012 Searle Scholar. In 2011, she was awarded a Sloan Research Fellowship, given to exceptional young researchers based on their "outstanding promise of making fundamental contributions to new knowledge." She was also selected as a 2011 Rita Allen Foundation Scholar, for which the criteria include attention to innovation, focus on areas of global concern, opportunities for lasting outcomes, collaborations and a demonstration of leadership.
Hallem earned her Ph.D. from Yale University in 2005. For more information on her research, visit
Previous UCLA MacArthur Fellows include Andrea Ghez (2008), a professor of physics and astronomy who holds UCLA's Lauren B. Leichtman and Arthur E. Levine Chair in Astrophysics; mathematician Terence Tao (2006), who holds UCLA's James and Carol Collins Chair in the College of Letters and Science; Saul Friedlander (1999), who holds UCLA's 1939 Club Chair in History; Elinor Ochs (1998), a professor of anthropology and applied linguistics; Susan McClary (1995), a professor of musicology; Rogers Brubaker (1994), a professor of sociology; Richard Turco (1986), a professor of atmospheric and oceanic sciences; Jared Diamond (1985), a professor of geography, physiology and environmental health sciences; and Peter Sellars (1983), a professor of world arts and cultures.
For more information on the fellowships, visit the MacArthur Foundation's web site at
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