TAU Researcher Wins Prestigious UNESCO-L'OREAL Prize
Osnat Zomer-Penn, a 31-year-old PhD fellow at Tel Aviv University's Edmond J. Safra School of Bioinformatics, has been chosen to receive the UNESCO-L'OREAL Prize, which will help fund her research in the coming year. The Prize, a product of the partnership between The L'Oreal Group and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, is part of an initiative to promote women in science and has was awarded to three Israeli women this year, including Zomer-Penn.
From the HIV Virus to the Study of Autism
Osnat Zomer-Penn's work is in the field of Computational Biology, a relatively new area of science which combines biology and computer sciences. During her graduate work at Prof. Tal Pupko's laboratory, she studied the evolution of the HIV virus and how its strains, common in different geographical areas, differ from each other. The virus, which causes AIDS, has developed different characteristics in different parts of the globe where it's been able to gain a foothold. Knowing more about the virus' evolution and continued efforts to adapt to new populations and new treatments would allow scientists to develop better drugs to help in the fight against AIDS.
However the work that won Zomer-Penn the UNESCO-L'OREAL Prize had to do with the genetics of autism. It's been long established in the scientific community that all autistic syndromes are influenced by genetic pre-disposition; however the causes of the disease are still largely a mystery. Zomer-Penn plans to analyze genetic data collected from hundreds of families with autistic children; by comparing the genomes of autistic children to those of their parents who are not autistic, Zomer-Penn will try to understand what causes the difference between the child and the parents, which could have direct implications for autism testing during and after pregnancy.