Student Researcher Is Heading to Asia for Year-Long Internship Via Luce Grant

Yale senior Blair Benham-Pyle of Davenport College, who helped to identify potential new sources of drugs to treat bacterial and parasitic infections from fungal organisms found in the Amazon rainforest, has been named a 2010-2011 Luce Fellow.

A major in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, Benham-Pyle was one of 18 students nationally chosen to win the award by the Henry Luce Foundation, which will allow her to pursue a year-long professional internship in Asia.

Benham-Pyle took part in a Yale-sponsored trip to the Amazon Rainforest in Ecuador in March 2008, as part of a class taught by Scott Strobel, the Henry Ford II Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and professor of chemistry.

During the annual Rainforest Expedition students search for novel fungal and bacterial endophytes in plants and analyze them for bioactivity. Benham-Pyle — working in the labs of Strobel and Michael Cappello, professor of pediatrics, microbial pathogenesis and epidemiology and public health - discovered that one of the endophytes she helped isolate and analyze was active against drug-resistant strains of the Staphylococcus aureus bacteria. She also found molecules that combat Ancylostoma ceylanicum, a laboratory strain of Hookworm Disease which afflicts hundreds of millions of people worldwide.

Outside of the laboratory, Benham-Pyle is an outside-hitter for the Yale Women’s Club Volleyball team, a co-director and co-founder of the Bioethics Society at Yale, and a freshmen counselor to the Yale Class of 2013. She has also served as a staff photographer for the Yale Daily News. She hails from Wood, Minnesota.

Launched in 1974 by the Henry Luce Foundation, the Luce Scholars Program awards grants to highly qualified young Americans in a variety of professional fields. Its goal is to introduce Asia to future American leaders, who might not otherwise have the opportunity to visit.

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