Mubarak Hussain Syed, an assistant professor of Biology at The University of New Mexico, has been awarded a 2023 Sloan Research Fellowship in Neuroscience from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The fellowships are presented to researchers whose creativity, innovation, and research accomplishments make them stand out. Winners receive a two-year, $75,000 fellowship that can be used flexibly to advance the fellow’s research.
Awarded this year to 126 of the brightest young scientists across the U.S. and Canada, the Sloan Research Fellowships are one of the most competitive and prestigious awards available to early-career researchers. They are also often seen as a marker of the quality of an institution’s science faculty and proof of an institution’s success in attracting the most promising junior researchers to its ranks. Since the first Sloan Research Fellowships were awarded in 1955, four faculty members from The University of New Mexico have received a Sloan Research Fellowship, including this year’s winner, the only one for neuroscience.
"Early-career recognition can make a significant difference in the life of a scientist," said Arash Mafi, interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "Syed is an extraordinary teacher-scholar who embodies UNM's values of innovation and excellence. We are very excited that he has been selected for the prestigious Sloan Research Fellowship, which is renowned for its rigorous selection process and the prominence of past awardees."
Syed was nominated for the Sloan award by Biology department Chair Cristina Takacs-Vesbach, a molecular microbial ecologist.
Syed will use the fellowship for research activities.
“This award will help our team decipher the mysteries of fruit fly brain development, which will advance our understanding on unraveling fundamental principles underlying brain development and function across species,” he said. "Our research will shed light on the development of the central complex, the brain region used for the celestial navigation of ants, flies, bees, and butterflies."
Syed and his team in the Neural Diversity Lab investigate the genetic and molecular mechanics regulating neural diversity ̶ from stem cells to neural circuits. The findings will help uncover the fundamental principles of nervous system development and potentially to understand and treat neurodevelopmental disorders such as epilepsy, schizophrenia, ADHD, and autism.
“Currently, our lab, along with our collaborators, are investigating how neural stem cells specify neuron types essential for olfactory navigation and sleep behaviors,” he said.
Working with fruit flies is a large part of the research.
“Fruit flies are an excellent model system to understand the genetic basis of nervous system development and function, explained Syed, who has been working with fruit flies for over a decade and is known as the “Fly Guy.”
Syed's research group identified a novel role of insect growth hormone in regulating neural stem cell temporal gene expression. Now they are testing if this hormonal signaling regulates the formation of diverse neuron types in the fruit fly brain.
“It is an honor to be on this list of extraordinary scientists. I am humbled,” Syed said. “Thanks go to my mentors, colleagues, and exceptional research scientists performing amazing science in our group at UNM. I am grateful to my collaborators and letter writers, who have continuously supported me and mentored me to become a better scientist and person.”
Syed is passionate about mentoring and training next-generation scientists through the Pueblo Brain Science program, which he started in 2021. He was also awarded the National Science Foundation CAREER award in 2021