University of Arizona faculty win state biotech awards

Three of the six awards given at the annual Arizona Bioindustry Association awards dinner recently went to two University of Arizona (UA) faculty members and a Tucson science teacher with close UA ties. The Arizona Bioindustry Association, or AZBio, is the state's biotech trade association.

Rod Wing, director of the Arizona Genomics Institute, won the Award for Research Excellence from AZBio. Wing, who is also the Bud Antle Endowed Chair for Excellence in Agriculture and Life Sciences and a member of the BIO5 Institute, has earned worldwide recognition for his work in mapping the genomic structures of rice and corn, two critically important food crops.

Rice is a staple for the majority of the world's human population and Wing has collaborated with scientists in China and the Philippines to improve crop strains. The United States also is the world's leading producer of corn, which ends up in a number of manufactured products as well as food. Wing's research could eventually lead to new crop strains resistant to disease and drought.

Michael A. Cusanovich, UA Regents' Professor in biochemistry and molecular biophysics, won the Jon W. McGarity Leadership Award from AZBio. Cusanovich, a former UA vice president for research, has championed interdisciplinary research for most of his career.

He is the director of the Arizona Research Laboratories, an umbrella for a myriad set of research activities, from the Center for Insect Sciences and the McKnight Brain Institute to the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth and the Neural Systems, Memory and Aging group.

Margaret Wilch won the association's Bioscience Educator of the Year Award, which goes to K-12 teachers. Wilch, a biology teacher at Tucson High Magnet School, frequently collaborates with the UA's BIO5 Institute and College of Science faculty. She developed BLAST (Biotechnology Laboratory for Arizona Students and Teachers) with UA Regents' Professor Nancy Moran.

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