WASHINGTON, DC – The Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has selected six papers published by PNAS in 2022 to receive the Cozzarelli Prize, an award that recognizes outstanding contributions to the scientific disciplines represented by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). Papers were chosen from more than 3,200 research articles that appeared in the journal last year and represent the six broadly defined classes under which the NAS is organized. Additionally, the Editorial Board has recognized six papers—one in each class—as finalists for the 2022 Cozzarelli Prize.

The annual Cozzarelli Prize acknowledges papers that reflect scientific excellence and originality. The award was established in 2005 as the Paper of the Year Prize and was renamed in 2007 to honor late PNAS Editor-in-Chief Nicholas R. Cozzarelli. The 2022 awardees will be recognized at an awards ceremony during the NAS Annual Meeting in April 2023.

2022 Cozzarelli Prize Recipients

Class I: Physical and Mathematical Sciences


Exploring the ancient chemistry of mercury

Marianna Marchini, Massimo Gandolfi, Lucia Maini, Lucia Raggetti, and Matteo Martelli

Alchemy is often considered a mythical and esoteric discipline. However, alchemy shares similarities and a common historical origin with chemistry. The authors of this study analyzed Greek, Latin, and Syriac alchemical texts from the first to fourth century CE and experimentally replicated historical methods for the extraction of mercury from cinnabar ore. The team reproduced mercury extraction techniques, including grinding cinnabar with various metals or heating cinnabar in closed vessels. The reconstructed methods included procedures not otherwise documented in modern chemistry. Translating alchemical lore into the language of chemistry, the results provide insight into the early history of chemistry as a discipline.



Automorphic Bloch theorems for hyperbolic lattices

Joseph Maciejko and Steven Rayan


Class II: Biological Sciences


Sox8 remodels the cranial ectoderm to generate the ear

Ailin Leticia Buzzi, Jingchen Chen, Alexandre Thiery, Julien Delile, and Andrea Streit

Little is known about the genetic mechanisms that form the vertebrate ear. The authors of this study analyzed gene expression using single-cell RNA sequencing of ear progenitor cells from different stages of ear development in chick embryos to determine how progenitor cells differentiate to form the ears and other sense organs. Combined with profiles of genome sequences that regulate ear-specific gene expression, the analysis identified three gene switches that form a genetic circuit for defining ear precursor identity. In particular, the transcription factor Sox8 triggers the differentiation of ear cells and ear neurons in ectoderm cells that are not originally destined to form the ear. The authors identified Sox8 as a key determinant of ear structure formation, opening avenues to explore genetic pathways involved in cell reprogramming and regeneration in the ear.



Regularly occurring bouts of retinal movements suggest an REM sleep–like state in jumping spiders

Daniela C. Rößler, Kris Kim, Massimo De Agrò, Alex Jordan, C. Giovanni Galizia, and Paul S. Shamble


Class III: Engineering and Applied Sciences


Twisting for soft intelligent autonomous robot in unstructured environments

Yao Zhao, Yinding Chi, Yaoye Hong, Yanbin Li, Shu Yang, and Jie Yin

Soft robots typically rely on external controls because designing onboard sensing and decision-making systems composed of soft materials is challenging. In this study, the authors engineered a soft robot composed of a twisted ribbon of liquid crystal elastomer capable of autonomously rolling across unstructured environments and navigating obstacles. When placed on a hot surface, the robot deformed its shape and rolled continuously, thanks to the dynamically changing thermal gradient along the edges. The robot could execute similar movements across sandy terrain and on sloped surfaces. Upon encountering an obstacle, the robot deformed and reversibly snapped, changing its rolling direction. This ability enabled the robot to navigate mazes autonomously. The study demonstrates the potential benefits of incorporating embodied, physical intelligence into soft robots.



Epigenetic MRI: Noninvasive imaging of DNA methylation in the brain

Fan Lam, James Chu, Ji Sun Choi, Chang Cao, T. Kevin Hitchens, Scott K. Silverman, Zhi-Pei Liang, Ryan N. Dilger, Gene E. Robinson, and King C. Li


Class IV: Biomedical Sciences


In vivo real-time imaging reveals megalin as the aminoglycoside gentamicin transporter into cochlea whose inhibition is otoprotective

Jinkyung Kim and Anthony J. Ricci

Aminoglycoside antibiotics are commonly used to treat bacterial infections; more than 10 million doses of this class of antibiotics are used each year in the United States alone to treat Gram-negative bacterial infections and sepsis. However, these antibiotics can cause hearing loss by damaging cochlear sensory hair cells. How aminoglycosides enter the cochlea and target hair cells is unclear. The authors of this study performed real-time tracking of gentamicin, an aminoglycoside, from the bloodstream into the cochlea of adult mice with normal hearing. A surgical approach enabled time-lapse imaging of gentamicin being delivered into a specialized compartment—the endolymph—of the cochlea by the transporter protein megalin and, subsequently, into hair cells. Cilastatin, a competitive blocker of megalin, reduced gentamicin accumulation in hair cells and gentamicin-induced hearing loss. The study identifies a therapeutic target for preventing antibiotic-induced hearing loss.



Bioremediation of mercury-polluted soil and water by the plant symbiotic fungus Metarhizium robertsii

Congcong Wu, Dan Tang, Jin Dai, Xingyuan Tang, Yuting Bao, Jiali Ning, Qing Zhen, Hui Song, Raymond J. St. Leger, and Weiguo Fang


Class V: Behavioral and Social Sciences


Half of US population exposed to adverse lead levels in early childhood

Michael J. McFarland, Matt E. Hauer, and Aaron Reuben

The developmental neurotoxic effects of early-life lead exposure are well documented, but the lasting impact on adult populations is unclear. The authors of this study combined US Census data, leaded gasoline consumption statistics, and a national survey of childhood blood lead levels from 1976 to 2016 to estimate early life lead exposure for the US population in 2015. More than 54% of the US population had childhood blood lead levels above the threshold for clinical concern and case management in 2015, resulting in an estimated total loss of more than 824 million IQ points. The results suggest that legacy lead exposure will continue to harm the health of the US population for several decades.



Neural event segmentation of continuous experience in human infants

Tristan S. Yates, Lena J. Skalaban, Cameron T. Ellis, Angelika J. Bracher, Christopher Baldassano, and Nicholas B. Turk-Browne


Class VI: Applied Biological, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Pharmaceutical pollution of the world’s rivers

John L. Wilkinson, Alistair B. A. Boxall, Dana W. Kolpin, Kenneth M. Y. Leung, Racliffe W. S. Lai, Cristóbal Galbán-Malagón, Aiko D. Adell, Julie Mondon, Marc Metian, Robert A. Marchant, Alejandra Bouzas-Monroy, Aida Cuni-Sanchez, Anja Coors, Pedro Carriquiriborde, Macarena Rojo, Chris Gordon, Magdalena Cara, Monique Moermond, Thais Luarte, Vahagn Petrosyan, Yekaterina Perikhanyan, Clare S. Mahon, Christopher J. McGurk, Thilo Hofmann, Tapos Kormoker, Volga Iniguez, Jessica Guzman-Otazo, Jean L. Tavares, Francisco Gildasio De Figueiredo, Maria T. P. Razzolini, Victorien Dougnon, Gildas Gbaguidi, Oumar Traoré, Jules M. Blais, Linda E. Kimpe, Michelle Wong, Donald Wong, Romaric Ntchantcho, Jaime Pizarro, Guang-Guo Ying, Chang-Er Chen, Martha Páez, Jina Martínez-Lara, Jean-Paul Otamonga, John Poté, Suspense A. Ifo, Penelope Wilson, Silvia Echeverría- Sáenz, Nikolina Udikovic-Kolic, Milena Milakovic, Despo Fatta-Kassinos, Lida Ioannou-Ttofa, Vladimíra Belušová, Jan Vymazal, María Cárdenas-Bustamante, Bayable A. Kassa, Jeanne Garric, Arnaud Chaumot, Peter Gibba, Ilia Kunchulia, Sven Seidensticker, Gerasimos Lyberatos, Halldór P. Halldórsson, Molly Melling, Thatikonda Shashidhar, Manisha Lamba, Anindrya Nastiti, Adee Supriatin, Nima Pourang, Ali Abedini, Omar Abdullah, Salem S Gharbia, Francesco Pilla, Benny Chefetz, Tom Topaz, Koffi Marcellin Yao, Bakhyt Aubakirova, Raikhan Beisenova, Lydia Olaka, Jemimah K. Mulu, Peter Chatanga, Victor Ntuli, Nathaniel T. Blama, Sheck Sherif, Ahmad Zaharin Aris, Ley Juen Looi, Mahamoudane Niang, Seydou T. Traore, Rik Oldenkamp, Olatayo Ogunbanwo, Muhammad Ashfaq, Muhammad Iqbal, Ziad Abdeen, Aaron O’Dea, Jorge Manuel Morales-Saldaña, María Custodio, Heidi de la Cruz, Ian Navarrete, Fabio Carvalho, Alhaji Brima Gogra, Bashiru M. Koroma, Vesna Cerkvenik-Flajs, Mitja Gombač, Melusi Thwala, Kyungho Choi, Habyeong Kang, John L. Celestino Ladu, Andreu Rico, Priyanie Amerasinghe, Anna Sobek, Gisela Horlitz, Armin K. Zenker, Alex C. King, Jheng-Jie Jiang, Rebecca Kariuki, Madaka Tumbo, Ulas Tezel, Turgut T. Onay, Julius B. Lejju, Yuliya Vystavna, Yuriy Vergeles, Horacio Heinzen, Andrés Pérez-Parada, Douglas B. Sims, Maritza Figy, David Good, and Charles Teta.

The extent of pharmaceutical pollution of rivers worldwide is unclear. In this study, the authors sampled 1,052 sites along 258 rivers in 104 countries, representing the environmental influence of 471.4 million people. Analyzing 61 active pharmaceutical ingredients, the authors found the highest levels of pharmaceutical pollution in sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia, and South America. Carbamazepine, metformin, and caffeine, which were the most frequently detected pharmaceuticals, were found in more than half of all monitoring sites. In 25.7% of sites, the concentrations of pharmaceuticals were above the levels considered safe for aquatic life or above thresholds of concern for the development of antibiotic resistance. The results suggest that pharmaceutical pollution in rivers poses a global risk to human and environmental health.



Vaccination of household chickens results in a shift in young children’s diet and improves child growth in rural Kenya

Elkanah Otiang, Jonathan Yoder, Shanthi Manian, Zoë A. Campbell, Samuel M. Thumbi, Lucy W. Njagi, Philip N. Nyaga, and Guy H. Palmer


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Prashant Nair
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)