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Todd LaJeunesse recognized for high impact research

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25 May 2017
Cover of the January/February 2014 issue of the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, featuring a scanning electron micrograph of the dinoflagellate species Symbiodinium voratum. The corresponding research article by Todd LaJeunesse and colleagues was awarded the 2014 William Trager Award.
Cover of the January/February 2014 issue of the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology, featuring a scanning electron micrograph of the dinoflagellate species Symbiodinium voratum. The corresponding research article by Todd LaJeunesse and colleagues was awarded the 2014 William Trager Award.

Research by Todd LaJeunesse, associate professor of biology at Penn State, his students, and colleagues has been recognized for its high impact and originality by two scientific societies. The International Society of Protistologists, an association of scientists devoted to research on single-celled organisms, awarded the 2014 William Trager Award for Outstanding Paper of the Year to LaJeunesse and colleagues from Seoul, South Korea, in 2017. The International Phycological Society, an organization dedicated to the study of algae, awarded the Tyge Christian Prize to LaJeunesse, his students, and colleagues from Taiwan in 2016. Both research articles were published in 2014 and were featured on the covers of their respective journals.

The 2014 William Trager Award recognizes the highest impact scientific article published in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology in 2014. The article, titled “Genetics and Morphology Characterize the Dinoflagellate Symbiodinium voratum, n. sp., (Dinophyceae) as the sole representative of Symbiodinium Clade E,” describes the morphology, ecology, and genetics of an unusual species of micro-algae Symbiodinium voratum. This species belongs to a group of dinoflagellates – plant-like microalgae -- that generally live symbiotically inside of stony corals and many other reef-dwelling invertebrates. The paper describes the first non-symbiotic species, which, rather than gaining resources from corals or other invertebrates, acquires energy through both photosynthesis and by eating bacteria and other microbes. At some point during its evolutionary history, this species of Symbiodinium appears to have shifted to being free-living organisms in coastal regions of the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. This discovery furthered understanding of the diversity of these micro-algae and their complex evolutionary history.

Cover of the July 2014 issue of the scientific journal Phycologia, featuring a photograph of corals that are typically symbiotic with the dinoflagellate species Symbiodinium trenchii. The corresponding research article by Todd LaJeunesse, his students, and colleagues was awarded the Tyge Christen Prize.
Cover of the July 2014 issue of the scientific journal Phycologia, featuring a photograph of corals that are typically symbiotic with the dinoflagellate species Symbiodinium trenchii. The corresponding research article by Todd LaJeunesse, his students, and colleagues was awarded the Tyge Christen Prize.

The Tyge Christen Prize recognizes an article published in the journal Phycologia based on its scientific significance, originality, comprehensiveness, and clarity of presentation. The article, titled “Ecologically differentiated stress-tolerant endosymbionts in the dinoflagellate genus Symbiodinium (Dinophyceae) Clade D are different species,” used an integrative genetics approach to determine the ecological and physiological differences between species of dinoflagellates in the Symbiodinium Clade D.

LaJeunesse focuses his research on the symbiotic relationships between corals and dinoflagellates, using genetic and molecular approaches to understand their ecology, distribution, and evolution. Because these relationships form the foundation of all coral-reef ecosystems, LaJeunesse is also interested in examining how they respond to periods of environmental change.

LaJeunesse’s other awards and honors include the Charles A. Storke II Graduate Fellowship Dissertation Award in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology in 2000 and the Departmental Regents Fellowship in 1999 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a member of the editorial board for the journal Symbiosis and has published over 70 papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, Scientific Reports, PLoS One, and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. LaJeunesse has presented keynote and invited lectures at numerous conferences and universities worldwide, including the European Phycological Society Congress in London in 2015; the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, in 2014; and Seoul National University in South Korea in 2013.

LaJeunesse joined the faculty at Penn State as an assistant professor of biology in 2008 and became associate professor in 2013. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of biology at Florida International University in Miami from 2004 to 2007; a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia from 2000 to 2004; and a visiting faculty member at the University of Hawaii in 2002. He earned a doctoral degree in biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in biology at Cornell University in 1991.

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