Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen, professor of biology and associate head of operations in the Department of Biology at Texas A&M University, has been named as one of five inaugural holders of a University Professorship, a new faculty honor announced Wednesday (May 1) by Texas A&M Provost and Executive Vice President Dr. Carol A. Fierke.
The new designation recognizes faculty who have demonstrated significant and sustained accomplishments in their discipline, earning them national and international recognition. The award also highlights the recipients’ commitment to inclusivity, accountability, climate and equity in their department, college and throughout their service at Texas A&M.
Bell-Pedersen, an internationally recognized leader in the fields of circadian and fungal biology, earns recognition along with four additional members of Texas A&M’s inaugural class of University Professors: Dr. Wendy Jepson, professor in the Department of Geography within the College of Geosciences; Dr. Bhimanagouda Patil, professor in the Department of Horticultural Sciences within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Dr. Ivan Rusyn, professor in the Department of Veterinary Integrative Sciences within the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; and Dr. Vladislav Yakovlev, professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering within the College of Engineering who also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Physics and Astronomy.
Recipients will receive an annual stipend for three years and retain the title throughout their careers at the university as faculty members in good standing. Nominations for the distinction were submitted by department heads or deans, and the finalists were selected by a university committee and approved by the Provost. The professorships are funded centrally from research indirect cost return and philanthropic support.
Bell-Pedersen and her fellow honorees will be recognized May 8 by Fierke during remarks at a celebration of distinguished faculty.
Fierke noted that these awards, in combination with endeavors such as the President’s Excellence Fund and similar faculty reinvestment programs, serve to empower and advance the careers of faculty at every level.
“The professorship is intended to help each honoree elevate their impact, which we believe to be imperative to the mission of Texas A&M University,” Fierke added.
The perpetual title also comes with an unprecedented feature: the option for the holder to personally name the professorship for a significant emeritus or deceased Texas A&M faculty member who has served as an inspiration or motivating factor in the recipient’s career and scholarship.
“I am honored to be selected as an inaugural holder of the University Professorship,” Bell-Pedersen said. “I would especially like to thank Tom McKnight for the nomination, in addition to those who provided support. I am especially grateful to be able to name the professorship after someone who was influential in my career.”
Bell-Pedersen earned her Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Albany in 1991 and joined the Texas A&M Biology faculty in 1997 following postdoctoral work at Dartmouth Medical School that focused on molecular studies of the circadian biological clock in Neurospora crassa, a filamentous fungus (mold) that has been used as a model organism for research since the 1940s. An expert in the mechanisms underpinning the biology of cellular clocks, she helped sequence the Neurospora genome. Her laboratory also made the first DNA chips containing both the fungus’s genes and major insights into its biological clock.
At Texas A&M, Bell-Pedersen’s research within her Center for Biological Clocks Research-affiliated laboratory continues to investigate how the circadian clock regulates daily rhythms in behavior, physiology and biochemistry. Defects of the human clock are associated with sleep disorders and, for unknown reasons, epilepsy, cerebrovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, headaches, cardiovascular disease and cancer. Understanding how biological clocks function and what they regulate at the molecular level can lead to new ways to improve human health.
As but one example, daily changes in metabolism and cell division rates can influence the efficacy and toxicity of many pharmaceuticals, including anticancer drugs. Bell-Pedersen’s research group recently discovered that the clock regulates conserved cellular signaling pathways involved in stress responses and the control of cell growth division — a finding that suggests deregulation of the human clock contributes to cancer while pointing to possible novel approaches for treatment of circadian disorders. To date, she has more than 60 publications in top-tier journals — results that have been cited nearly 8,000 times. In addition, she is frequently invited to present her work through platform talks at scientific meetings, seminars and symposia around the nation and world.
Read past first-person perspective from Bell-Pedersen on what the common bread mold Neurospora crassa can teach us about cancer and why science matters in the bigger picture. Also see a past “Battalion” feature on Bell-Pedersen’s biological clocks-related research.
Bell-Pedersen’s research has been continuously funded by a variety of federal, state and private sources, primarily the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In the same year she arrived at Texas A&M, she was able to secure her initial NIH research project (R01) award — a grant she has had successfully renewed ever since. Bell-Pedersen recently converted that grant, along with two additional grants, into a single five-year, $3.66 million grant under the NIH Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award (MIRA) program intended to increase proven researchers’ scientific productivity and odds for important breakthroughs by ensuring their funding stability to allow greater autonomy and flexibility. She also served as a principal investigator on Texas A&M’s first NIH Program Project (P01) grant from 2000 to 2010.
A 2014 fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Bell-Pedersen has been a member of the NIH Cellular Signaling and Regulatory Systems Study Section and previously served on numerous other review panels for the NIH, National Science Foundation and NASA. She has been on the editorial board of Eukaryotic Cell, one of the premier journals in life sciences, as well as an associate editor for several other journals. In 2010 she was the invited editor for a special edition of Fungal Genetics and Biology on photobiology.
Bell-Pedersen’s many honors include a 2015 Texas A&M Association of Former Students Distinguished Achievement Award for Research, the 2013 Texas A&M Women Former Students’ Network (WFSN) Eminent Scholar Award, a 2010 Sigma Xi Distinguished Lectureship and 2010 University Distinguished Lectureship at Texas A&M, the 2010 Davidson Award from Baylor University, the 2010 Ethel Ashworth-Tsutsui Memorial Lectureship at Texas A&M, a 2007 Texas A&M Association of Former Students College-Level Distinguished Achievement Award in Teaching and the 2005 JoAnn Treat Research Excellence Award.
“Dr. Deborah Bell-Pedersen is an exceptionally strong candidate for the inaugural class of University Professorships,” said Dr. Thomas D. McKnight, professor and head of Texas A&M Biology. “Her contributions to the science of the biological clock and clock output pathways are highly regarded. She is a leader in the fields of both biological clocks and fungal biology, where she is well known, respected and loved. She is not only an outstanding researcher, but also a wonderful mentor for graduate and undergraduate researchers. Her commitment to her science and her students makes Texas A&M a better place for us all. She is an outstanding ambassador for her field, for science in general, and for Texas A&M University.”
Learn more about Bell-Pedersen and her teaching, research and professional service accomplishments.
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