The HudsonAlpha Life Sciences Prize recognizes scientists who have made innovative contributions to life sciences research with the potential for positive impact on human health and social well-being. The HudsonAlpha faculty select awardees with outstanding achievements in scientific discovery, genomic medicine, economic development and public science education. Award recipients reflect HudsonAlpha’s core values of cooperation, collaboration and the ability to integrate ideas across different areas of thought and expertise. 

2019 Life Sciences Prize Recipient

Susan R. Wessler, PhD

Neil and Rochelle Campbell Presidential Chair for Innovations in Science Education University of California, Riverside

Home Secretary, US National Academy of Sciences

The Wessler laboratory studies transposable elements (TEs) with a special focus on their identification in newly sequenced genomes and their contributions to gene and genome evolution. Her laboratory has pioneered the use of computational analysis to determine the TE landscape of many plant genomes, including maize, rice, B. oleracea, arabidopsis, Lotus japonicus, poplar, amborella, mimulus, and citrus. Furthermore, they have tested the activity of numerous in silico TEs by developing transposition assays in yeast and arabidopsis. Her laboratory is best known for the discovery of miniature inverted repeat transposable elements (MITEs), which are the predominant TE associated with plant genes, and are abundant in the genomes of many animal species.

Life Sciences Prize ∙ Public Lecture

Location/Date: Paul Propst Center from 3pm to 4pm (October 14th, 2019)

Wessler will give a public talk on October 14, 2019 at the Paul Propst Center from 3pm to 4pm. The talk will focus on the legacy of Barbara McClintock’s work. McClintock discovered in the 1940’s that the movement of TEs could explain why individual kernels of maize look different. More than 40 years later, McClintock was awarded the Nobel Prize for that work. Wessler’s talk explores why it took so long for the work to be recognized and why TEs are now seen as key contributors to the evolution of complex life.

History of the Life Sciences Prize

The annual Life Sciences Prize was instituted in 2008 by HudsonAlpha co-founder, Lonnie McMillian, and recognizes an academic scientist who has made outstanding and ongoing contributions that emphasize imagination, innovation, and the potential for impact on society and/or human health. For the first several years, the prize highlighted Alabama scientists, with the nomination and selection of prize candidates carried out by Institute leadership together with the Scientific Advisory Board. A decade later, the award includes scientists around the world, emphasizing achievements that exemplify HudsonAlpha’s key missions.

Past Recipients


Charles Rotimi, PhD

National Institutes of Health

Honored for his genomics research in health disparities.


Bruce Alberts, PhD

University of California, San Francisco

Honored for his extraordinary contributions to, and advocacy for, science and science education.


Mary-Claire King, PhD

University of Washington

Honored for her foundational work on genetic susceptibility to breast and ovarian cancer.

Jay Shendure, PhD

University of Washington

Honored for his innovative work in the development and application of genomic technology to human biology and disease.


Tim Townes, PhD

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Honored for his longstanding research on understanding and treating sickle cell and related blood disorders.


Casey Weaver, MD

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Honored for his work on immune protection and immune disease.


Guy Caldwell, PhD, and Kim Caldwell, PhD

University of Alabama at Birmingham

Honored for their work on the pathophysiology of neurodegenerative disease.

The Sculpture

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology presents the Life Sciences Prize recipient with a glass sculpture crafted by Cal Breed, a local artist with Orbix Hot Glass.

The sculpture links us to beginnings. Fittingly so, the egg design of the HudsonAlpha Life Science Prize reflects the refined sculpture’s form and each piece has distilled colors and detailed shapes that are unique to each scientific prize winner.