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Emily Balskus wins Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists

Harvard chemical biologist honored for her work on the gut microbiome

by Linda Wang
June 28, 2019

Photo of Emily Balskus.
Credit: Courtesy of Emily Balskus
Emily Balskus

Emily Balskus, professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Harvard University, is the recipient of the 2019 Blavatnik Award for Young Scientists in the chemistry category. The $250,000 prize is awarded by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences.

“It is such an honor to receive this award,” Balskus says. “I’m extremely grateful to my amazing research group for their belief in our shared scientific vision. This is a wonderful recognition of their passion, creativity, and effort.”

Balskus is studying the biochemistry of the human microbiome. Her research team identified the enzyme responsible for generating trimethylamine from choline in the gut, which may lead to therapies to curb heart disease.

“I’ve always liked thinking about and working on problems that take me into new scientific territory,” she says. “I also love to learn from and with my lab members and collaborators who come from very different areas of chemistry and biology. More recently, I’ve also become very motivated by the impact that our work on the human microbiome could have for patients.”

“She epitomizes the best minds at the intersection of chemical and biologic research,” says Christopher Walsh, Bullard Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, who was Balskus’ postdoc adviser. “Her deep insights into how molecules react has unearthed new principles of biologic catalysis. One of her research foci is in the molecules and metabolic pathways of microbes in the human GI tract and she has uncovered new chemical logic in those studies.”

Balskus earned a BA in chemistry from Williams College, an MPhil in chemistry from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in chemistry from Harvard. Balskus was named a Talented12 scholar by C&EN in 2015. She is a recipient of the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award.

The other laureates of this year’s awards are Heather J. Lynch of Stony Brook University, who won in the life sciences category; and Ana Maria Rey of University of Colorado Boulder, who won in the physical sciences and engineering category.



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