Humans have strong preferences for fairness and equality, and these preferences motivate altruistic behaviour. But what is it that makes us behave unselfishly towards others? Could neuroscience hold the answers? Molly Crockett, recipient of a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship, believes so.
Ms Crockett is one of 18 outstanding researchers who have received one of the prestigious Fellowships from the Wellcome Trust. The Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships provide £250,000 over four years so that researchers can pursue important biomedical research questions, working in the best laboratories worldwide.
Ms Crockett will begin conducting her research at the University of Zurich and the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging at UCL (University College London). There, she will use the latest neuroscience tools to explore to what extent our altruistic inclinations are innate, arise out of habit, or are calculated.
"This Fellowship will give me an unprecedented amount of independence at this stage in my career, allowing me to pursue a long-term project of my own," says Ms Crockett. "This will be important for creating an identity for myself as a scientist.
"I will use the Fellowship to work in several laboratories worldwide to learn different approaches to questions about human behaviour, from economics to neuroscience. Without the Fellowship, I might have only been able to work in one of the labs, but a collaborative approach is crucial for my research question."
Another of this year's Fellows, Dr Anthony Roberts, will take up his postdoctoral position at the University of Leeds and Harvard Medical School, where he will study the action of 'motor proteins', specialised proteins that play critical roles in ensuring that our bodies and nervous systems develop and function correctly. Motor proteins travel inside our cells and distribute important molecules to their proper places, but they can malfunction, causing disease, or be hijacked by viruses such as HIV.
Dr Roberts says: "Being awarded the Fellowship is a huge honour. Its scale, duration and flexibility make it possible to take on challenging problems. It frees you to explore the full scope of your research ideas.
"Through the Fellowship, I strive to make discoveries in a research area that is biomedically important and, on a personal level, fascinating. I hope to finish with a battery of new skills, experiences and collaborators to take forward into the next stage of my scientific career."
The awards were made in the fourth round of the annual Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships. The competition for the 2011 Fellowships is due to open on 30 July 2010. The Fellowships are intended to provide the support and flexibility necessary to foster a new generation of research leaders, allowing them to pursue independent careers, working with some of the world's leading scientists in the UK and overseas.
"The Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship has helped us identify and nurture extraordinary early-career scientists in fields as diverse as neuroscience, molecular biology and infectious disease," says Dr Candy Hassall, who oversees the Fellowship programme at the Wellcome Trust. "Many of those funded to date have already made important discoveries and we look forward to the ongoing success of the Fellows in the future."
The complete list of this year's Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowships, including the institutions at which they will initially be based, is as follows:
Oliver Bannard, University of Oxford: The regulation of B cell responses during malaria infections
Ross Chapman, CRUK London Research Institute: Defining the role of BRCA1 and associated proteins in suppressing 53BP1-dependent toxic DNA repair
Molly Crockett, University College London: Automatic and analytical altruism: neurobiological foundations of human prosocial behaviour
Samuel Dean, University of Oxford: The trypanosome flagellar pocket-functions and adaptations in differentiation, pathogenicity and immune evasion
Helge Dorfmueller, University of Dundee: Mechanism and inhibition of chitin synthesis
Daniel Fazakerley, University of Dundee: Use of proteomics and systems biology to dissect the molecular adaptability of metabolism in muscle and fat cells
Demis Hassabis, University College London: Understanding the episodic memory system and its critical role in future thinking
Nerea Irigoyen, University of Cambridge: Ribosomal frame-shifting and read-through in virus gene expression
Benjamin Judkewitz, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine: Optofluidic microscopy for portable low-cost malaria diagnostics
Line Löken, University of Oxford: Feelings of pain and pleasure: delineating hedonic sensation in the brain
Andrew MacAskill, University College London: Spine specific targeting of ion channels in striatal neurons
John Perry, University of Exeter: Identifying low frequency and rare genetic variation involved in type 2 diabetes using next generation sequencing data
Sridharan Rajagopalan, University of Oxford: Proteases as next generation therapeutics for influenza A
Oliver Ratmann, Imperial College London: Unravelling the dynamics of rapidly evolving infectious diseases in humans with approximate Bayesian computations
Anthony Roberts, University of Leeds:Mechanisms regulating movement and force generation by cytoplasmic dynein
Aleksandra Watson, University of Cambridge: The structural basis of theinteractions of the NuRD co-repressor complex
Elton Zeqiraj, University of Dundee: A structural and biochemical approach to understand the molecular mechanism of glycogen synthesis
Kaixin Zhou, University of Dundee: Heritability and pharmacogenetics in patients with type 2 diabetes