Indian American scientist receives NSF CAREER Award

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Saket Navlakha (Courtesy: Salk Institute for Biological Studies)

Indian American scientist Saket Navlakha has received a CAREER award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and will receive more than $1 million over the next five years to fund his proposed study, “Algorithms in nature: uncovering principles of plant structure, growth, and adaptation.”

Navlakha is an assistant professor in the integrative biology laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, where his is also a Pioneer Fund Developmental chair, according to a press release.

The press release further states that the goal of this project “is to elucidate the naturally occurring algorithms in biological systems, such as the branching of a tree in search for light, and compare the network design strategies and optimization principles to that of developing neurons in the brain and human engineered transportation structures.”

The results of Navlakha study will help reveal the basic patterns that evolution has used to design these systems and will offer an improved understanding of how these natural networks process information and function in both health and disease, the institute explained.

“Saket’s work is as innovative as it is interdisciplinary, with an approach that spans the fields of plant biology, computer science and neuroscience to reveal fascinating patterns in nature, including the brain. We are grateful that his research is being recognized and supported by the NSF, as it will help advance our understanding of how mathematics is intrinsically linked with the natural world, with relevance to topics as diverse as finding the causes of Alzheimer’s disease or enhancing crop yields,” Rusty Gage, the president of the Salk Institute, is quoted saying in a press release.

In the integrative biology laboratory at the institute, Navlakha and his team study how groups of distributed molecules and cells communicate and process information to collectively solve computational problems important for survival.

Navlakha received his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Maryland and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at Carnegie Mellon University.

Last year he was among the 22 individuals named as the 2018 Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences.

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