Assistant Professor Ullas Pedmale has received the National Institutes of Health “Outstanding Investigator Award,” a 5-year grant in recognition of “a record of research productivity with unusual potential.” One of only two plant biologists awarded, Pedmale studies how the environment of an organism regulates its growth and development. Without a brain, plants successfully integrate internal and external signals and make appropriate decisions about growth. Light is a key external signal because it drives photosynthesis and provides information about the local growth environment, including diurnal and seasonal time. To understand the molecular mechanisms by which a plant perceives and responds to its light environment, his lab will focus on cryptochromes (CRYs), the interface between the light environment and an organism. CRYs are present in diverse organisms including humans, where they regulate circadian rhythms, several physiological processes, and diseases. Pedmale hopes his work will help to improve crop productivity and to develop optogenetic tools to target neuronal disorders. In humans, disruption of CRY activity is associated with many disorders including cancer, inflammation, insomnia and diabetes.