WALNUT CREEK, CA–Len Pennacchio, Genetic Analysis Program Head at the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI) and senior staff scientist in the Genomics Division of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is among this year’s recipients of The Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers (PECASE).
Pennacchio was recognized for his significant contributions to the generation and interpretation of the human genome sequence. Specifically, the committee cited his systematic assignment of gene regulatory function to the human genome through the coupling of vertebrate comparative genomics and large-scale studies in mice, using a world-class mouse resource that he established.
“Len is extraordinarily capable at getting things done,” said Genomics Division and JGI Director Eddy Rubin. “We’ll be seeing many more great contributions from Len.”
Pennacchio was one of eight researchers funded by the DOE’s Office of Science and its National Nuclear Security Administration to be honored for their work, ranging from computer vision and machine intelligence to identifying genetic switches in the human genome. DOE’s scientists are among 58 researchers supported by nine federal departments and agencies who received the early career award this year.
“These awards reflect our belief that the representatives of the new generation of scientists and engineers honored today are meeting demanding scientific and technical challenges with superior leadership, knowledge, and insight,” Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said. “I’m pleased to recognize the extraordinary scientific and technical achievements represented by the awardees’ contributions.”
The PECASE award was created to honor and support the extraordinary achievements of young professionals at the outset of their independent research careers in the fields of science and technology. The Presidential Award embodies the high priority placed by the government on maintaining the leadership position of the United States in science by producing outstanding scientists and engineers who will broadly advance science and the missions important to the participating federal agencies.
Pennacchio earned his undergraduate degree in biology from Sonoma State University and his Ph.D. from the Department of Genetics at Stanford University. During his graduate studies, he worked to uncover the genetic cause of a rare form of human epilepsy and subsequently generated one of the first mouse models for epilepsy.
In 1999, he joined Rubin’s laboratory as an Alexander Hollaender Distinguished Fellow at Berkeley Lab, where he identified a novel apolipoprotein involved in human and mouse triglyceride metabolism. His current research is focused on understanding how DNA sequence variation contributes to trait differences within a species. For instance, in prospective bioenergy crop species such as the poplar tree, what sequence changes explain differences in plant biomass production? This is accomplished through the identification of both common and rare changes within a species’ genome, followed by their correlation with a trait of interest.
Pennacchio and the other PECASE recipients were honored today (Nov. 1) in an award ceremony in Washington D.C. at the Presidential Hall of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Executive Office Building. Each award recipient receives a plaque, a citation from the President, and $50,000 per year for five years to support their research.
The U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute, supported by the DOE Office of Science, unites the expertise of five national laboratories — Lawrence Berkeley, Lawrence Livermore, Los Alamos, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest — along with the Stanford Human Genome Center to advance genomics in support of the DOE missions related to clean energy generation and environmental characterization and cleanup. DOE JGI’s Walnut Creek, CA, Production Genomics Facility provides integrated high-throughput sequencing and computational analysis that enable systems-based scientific approaches to these challenges.