Professor named Blaise Pascal Research Chair
Published: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, October 8, 2013 01:10
Ana Soto, professor of integrative physiology and pathobiology at the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences, will begin her research as a new Blaise Pascal Research Chair after flying to Paris on Oct. 15.
According to Laura Liscum, professor and ad interim chair of integrative physiology and pathobiology, four Blaise Pascal Chairs are awarded each year by the French government to deserving scientists who wish to conduct their research in Paris.
For Soto, who noted that many past chair holders have been Nobel Prize laureates, the Pascal Chair represents an extremely prestigious honor that will give her the opportunity to extend her research interests.
“I think it is a very high honor bestowed to me, and it is a high honor for the medical school,” she said.
Soto said she first thought to apply for the position of Blaise Pascal Chair during a visit to Paris.
“I met some people who were Pascal Chairs,” she said. “I realized the potential of such a thing,” she said.
Soto will soon depart to Paris to begin her research, which will focus on building a new foundation for the study of biology. Although Darwin’s theory of evolution adequately serves to describe biological changes over long periods of time, she believes that science currently lacks a theory which operates on the timeframe of an organism’s life cycle.
“[Darwinian theory] does not pertain to whole life cycles,” Soto said. “That is why we are working on a theory of organisms.”
Biologists used to view an organism’s development as similar to programs running through a computer, she said, adding that this idea is fundamentally flawed.
In order to develop a comprehensive and useful theory of organisms, according to Soto, scientists must first clarify a core set of principles that ignore earlier theories of programmed life cycles.
“We plan to put these [new] concepts and principles in practice, both in our research program and in the context provided by thyroid hormone and regulation of metamorphosis,” Soto said in her Blaise Pascal Chair application. “We expect that a new language will be articulated by this joint exercise.”
Soto maintained that although her research presents a challenge, the results will be critical to the study of biology.
“Someone has to do it,” she said.
Soto also praised the work of her research collaborator Carlos Sonnenschein, professor of integrative physiology and pathobiology at the Sackler School. European colleagues and Professors Giuseppe Longo and Paul-Antoine Miquel also worked with Soto on her research.
In addition, Soto will direct a teaching program in Paris consisting of three components: a course for graduate students, a public seminar describing the findings of her research and a workshop, with limited participants, followed by a public conference.
Liscum said that Soto’s appointment as Blaise Pascal Chair reflects well on the prominence of the Sackler School.
“This is a very prestigious chair,” she said. “It is going to increase the visibility of Tufts across Europe.”
Soto’s position is also unique among Tufts University School of Medicine faculty, Liscum said, since none have ever before been given international status.
“There are individuals who have won incredible awards ... but this is an international chair, so it is quite a step,” Liscum said.