LaJeunesse and colleagues receive 2017 Tyge Christiansen Prize

Gang Ning, director of Penn State’s Microscopy Facility (left), Todd LaJeunesse, associate professor of biology at Penn State (middle), and Drew Wham, a former graduate student in LaJeunesse’s lab, have been awarded the 2017 Tyge Christiansen Prize by the International Phycological Society. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The 2017 Tyge Christiansen Prize has been awarded to three Penn Staters by the International Phycological Society, an organization dedicated to the study of algae: Todd LaJeunesse, associate professor of biology at Penn State, Drew Wham, former graduate student in LaJeunesse’s lab and currently a data scientist for Penn State’s Education Technology Services, and Gang Ning, director of Penn State’s Microscopy Facility.

The prize recognizes an article published in the journal Phycologia in 2017 based on its scientific significance, originality, comprehensiveness, and clarity of presentation. LaJeunesse and his students and colleagues also won the Tyge Christiansen Prize for a paper published in 2014.

The article, titled “Symbiodinium glynnii sp. nov., a species of stress-tolerant symbiotic dinoflagellates from pocilloporid and montiporid corals in the Pacific Ocean,” uses a variety of sophisticated techniques to compare two similar species of heat-tolerant dinoflagellates — plant-like microalgae that live inside the cells of and provide resources to corals. By using data ranging from physical characteristics to DNA sequences to ecology, the team identifies and describes a dinoflagellate species that is tolerant of warming temperatures, which may allow its coral host species to withstand a changing climate. The study also provides an example of how machine learning can be used to identify hard-to-discern species with limited data.

LaJeunesse focuses his research on the symbiotic relationships between corals and dinoflagellates, using genetic and molecular approaches to understand their ecology, distribution and evolution. Because these relationships form the foundation of all coral-reef ecosystems, LaJeunesse is also interested in examining how they respond to periods of environmental change.

LaJeunesse’s other awards and honors include the William Trager Award for best paper in the Journal of Eukaryotic Microbiology by the International Society of Protistologists in 2014; the Charles A. Storke II Graduate Fellowship Dissertation Award in Ecology, Evolution, and Marine Biology in 2000; and the Departmental Regents Fellowship in 1999 from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He is a member of the editorial board for the journal Symbiosis and has published over 80 papers in peer-reviewed journals such as Proceedings of the National Academies of Science, Scientific Reports, Current Biology, and Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B. LaJeunesse has presented keynote and invited lectures at numerous conferences and universities worldwide, including the European Phycological Society Congress in London in 2015; the National Institute for Environmental Studies in Tsukuba, Japan, in 2014; and Seoul National University in Korea in 2014.

LaJeunesse joined the faculty at Penn State as an assistant professor of biology in 2008 and became associate professor in 2013. Prior to that, he was an assistant professor of biology at Florida International University in Miami from 2004 to 2007; a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Georgia from 2000 to 2004; and a visiting faculty member at the University of Hawaii in 2002. He earned a doctoral degree in biology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in biology at Cornell University in 1991.

Last Updated January 15, 2019