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Neel Aluru Receives Outstanding New Environmental Scientist Award

February 24, 2015

Neel Aluru, an Assistant Scientist in the Biology Department at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), has received an Outstanding New Environmental Scientist (ONES) award from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

Part of the National Institutes of Health, NIEHS created the award to encourage the most talented early stage researchers who “intend to make a long-term commitment to research in the environmental health sciences and assist them in launching an innovative research program focused on the understanding of environmental exposure effects on people’s health.”

Aluru is among six outstanding early-career scientists chosen this year. The 2015 ONES awardees will study substances in environment such as arsenic, ozone, and pollution, and connections to health problems, such as cognitive function, asthma, and DNA damage.

Aluru will use the five-year grant, valued at $2.05 million, to study how early-life exposures to toxic chemicals in zebrafish may lead to developmental disabilities.

“With this grant support, my lab will conduct studies to understand how early-life exposure to environmental chemicals causes adult-onset diseases, specifically focusing on epigenetic mechanisms,” Aluru said. Epigenetics is the study of external modifications to DNA or to protein that surrounds it.

“These modifications can alter how genes are expressed and there is a growing list of chemicals in the environment that are shown to affect these mechanisms. We will be conducting these studies in zebrafish, but the results will be relevant both for human health as well as the health of aquatic vertebrates exposed to environmental chemicals,” he added.

First established in 2006, the highly competitive ONES awards have become a model for funding emerging scientists, typically in their mid-30s. Traditionally, scientists are awarded their first research grant around the age of 42.

“The ONES funding comes at a critical time in a research career when someone is trying to set up their own lab to pursue their unique ideas,” said Linda Birnbaum, NIEHS director. “These early-career scientists are so innovative and they inspire the entire research community. I believe this program will spur new biomedical research and lead to important medical breakthroughs.”

Aluru joined the WHOI staff in 2012 as an Assistant Scientist, and he currently also serves as an investigator in the Woods Hole Center for Oceans and Human Health.  He earned his Ph.D. in biology from the University of Waterloo, Ontario, in 2005. He did a postdoctoral fellowship at University of Guelph, Ontario, and was a postdoctoral scholar at WHOI.

“The ONES award is well-deserved recognition of Neel’s accomplishments and of his original ideas for research to advance our understanding of how early life exposure to stressors can have long-lasting health effects,” said Mark Hahn, Biology Department Chair at WHOI. “Neel is a great example of how WHOI scientists often reach across disciplines to conduct research that has broad fundamental significance.”

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, non-profit organization on Cape Cod, Mass., dedicated to marine research, engineering, and higher education. Established in 1930 on a recommendation from the National Academy of Sciences, its primary mission is to understand the ocean and its interaction with the Earth as a whole, and to communicate a basic understanding of the ocean’s role in the changing global environment. For more information, please visit