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Wisecaver named University Faculty Scholar, looks to future research efforts

"It is a wonderful honor, and it will have a big impact,” says Jennifer Wisecaver, associate professor of biochemistry, responding to the 2023 University Faculty Scholar award she recently received from the Purdue University Office of the Provost.

Wisecaver is one of four faculty members from the College of Agriculture who received this distinction this year. The award recognizes faculty who are on an accelerated path for academic distinction in the discovery and dissemination of knowledge. This year, a total of 120 faculty across the university received the award.

The monetary gain from this award will enable Wisecaver’s lab to continue doing high risk, high reward experiments. Wisecaver explains, “These experiments could turn into new areas of research in the lab.”

Conference travel for students and other early career scientists is crucial, she emphasizes. “This award will also allow more members of my lab to travel to scientific meetings to present our research and network with scientists from all over the world,” she adds.

Wisecaver earned a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology from the University of Arizona. There, she focused on the evolution and ecology of marine algae. Before joining Purdue, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Vanderbilt University, studying the evolution of secondary metabolism in plants and fungi.

Her passion for these topics and her skills in comparative genomics and phylogenetics have merged into an intriguing research expertise. A member of the Center for Plant Biology, her research centers on the genomic basis of evolutionary innovation in plants, fungi and eukaryotic microbes.

Wisecaver’s team, including undergraduate and graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows, study how specialized metabolism has evolved in organisms. “Specialized metabolism is extremely diverse and includes the special abilities of some organisms to make things like toxins, antibiotics and pigments, among other products,” She says. “It can also include the ability to breakdown things in the environment that would otherwise be harmful to an organism. My lab studies how these novel abilities evolve, and what sort of genomic changes facilitate this evolution.”

Wisecaver’s team also works with multiple organisms from across the tree of life, including plants, algae, and fungi, with the goal to discover what evolutionary and genetic processes are generalizable across these diverse groups and which are unique solutions to shared environmental problems.

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