WASHINGTON, DC – The Editorial Board of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) has selected six papers published by PNAS in 2023 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 3,000 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 2023 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 2023 awardees will be recognized at an awards ceremony during the NAS Annual Meeting in April 2024.

2023 Cozzarelli Prize Recipients

Class I: Physical and Mathematical Sciences


Supermassive Dark Star candidates seen by JWST

Cosmin Ilie, Jillian Paulin, and Katherine Freese

“Dark stars” have been proposed as stars in the early universe that are powered by the annihilation of dark matter within a hydrogen cloud. Such dark stars could grow to become objects a million times the size of the Sun and a billion times as bright as the Sun. The authors of this study report three objects imaged by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that are candidate dark stars. The telescope’s resolution is insufficient to discern whether the objects are point sources of light, such as puffy dark stars or an entire galaxy. The authors suggest that future observations of gravitationally magnified objects may enable measurements that could confirm the existence of dark stars.



Coupled atmospheric chemistry, radiation, and dynamics of an exoplanet generate self-sustained photochemistry

Yangcheng Luo, Yongyun Hu, Jun Yang, Michael Zhang, and Yuk L. Yung


Class II: Biological Sciences


Reversal of an existing hearing loss by gene activation in Spns2 mutant mice

Elisa Martelletti, Neil J. Ingham, and Karen P. Steel

Mechanical aids can mitigate the symptoms of hearing loss, but the underlying causes are generally considered irreversible. One common form of hearing loss in mice results in the loss of electrical potential in the endolymph, which is the fluid in contact with hair cells in the cochlea. The authors of this study used a genetic mechanism in mice that lack the Spns2 gene and develop hearing loss as a result. When it was delivered early, the mechanism, which was triggered by a drug and re-instated Spns2 gene transcription, restored hearing in deaf mice. Delays in treatment resulted in diminished restoration, suggesting a critical period of reversibility. The authors suggest that the method may be used to explore the reversibility of other genetic disorders.



Horizontal gene transfer underlies the painful stings of asp caterpillars (Lepidoptera: Megalopygidae)

Andrew A. Walker, Samuel D. Robinson, David J. Merritt, Fernanda C. Cardoso, Mohaddeseh Hedayati Goudarzi, Raine S. Mercedes, David A. Eagles, Paul Cooper, Christina N. Zdenek, Bryan G. Fry, Donald W. Hall, Irina Vetter, and Glenn F. King


Class III: Engineering and Applied Sciences


A minimal physics-based model for musical perception

Kosar Mozaffari, Fatemeh Ahmadpoor, Qian Deng, and Pradeep Sharma

Musical perception is a complex phenomenon. Variation in the physical properties of the auditory system, such as the hair cells of the internal ear, may partially account for differences in people’s ability to perceive musical tones. The authors of this study developed a model of the mechanics of the hair cells of the inner ear. The physics-based model explains how the geometry and electromechanical properties of hair cells may influence musical perception. The model also explores the impact of factors external to the auditory system, including medications such as ibuprofen



Carbon–cement supercapacitors as a scalable bulk energy storage solution

Nicolas Chanut, Damian Stefaniuk, James C. Weaver, Yunguang Zhu, Yang Shao-Horn, Admir Masic, and Franz-Josef Ulm


Class IV: Biomedical Sciences


Steroid receptor coactivator 3 is a key modulator of regulatory T cell–mediated tumor evasion

Sang Jun Han, Prashi Jain, Yosef Gilad, Yan Xia, Nuri Sung, Mi Jin Park, Adam M. Dean, Rainer B. Lanz, Jianming Xu, Clifford C. Dacso, David M. Lonard, and Bert W. O’Malley

Steroid receptor coactivator 3 (SRC-3) is highly expressed in regulatory T cells (Tregs), which play a key role in restraining the immune system and preventing autoimmune diseases. SRC-3 and Tregs have both been associated with tumor progression. The authors of this study eliminated SRC-3 expression in the Tregs of genetically engineered mice, resulting in long-lasting eradication of aggressive breast and prostate cancers, without apparent autoimmune side effects. Transfer of SRC-3-deleted Tregs from the genetically engineered mice into wild-type mice with preexisting tumors similarly resulted in tumor elimination without recurrence. The results suggest that SRC-3-deleted Tregs may hold promise for improved cancer treatments.



Losartan controls immune checkpoint blocker-induced edema and improves survival in glioblastoma mouse models

Meenal Datta, Sampurna Chatterjee, Elizabeth M. Perez, Simon Gritsch, Sylvie Roberge, Mark Duquette, Ivy X. Chen, Kamila Naxerova, Ashwin S. Kumar, Mitrajit Ghosh, Kyrre E. Emblem, Mei R. Ng, William W. Ho, Pragya Kumar, Shanmugarajan Krishnan, Xinyue Dong, Maria C. Speranza, Martha R. Neagu, J. Bryan Iorgulescu, Raymond Y. Huang, Gilbert Youssef, David A. Reardon, Arlene H. Sharpe, Gordon J. Freeman, Mario L. Suvà, Lei Xu, and Rakesh K. Jain


Class V: Behavioral and Social Sciences


Vaccination, immunity, and the changing impact of COVID-19 on infant health

Florencia Torche and Jenna Nobles

Maternal COVID-19 infection has been associated with increased risk of preterm birth, which can have lifelong health and socioeconomic consequences. The authors of this study analyzed population-level data on live births and maternal COVID-19 infection status in California between 2014 and 2023. Comparing siblings born before and during the pandemic allowed the authors to identify the impact of maternal COVID-19 infection and the protective role of vaccination. Prenatal COVID-19 exposure increased preterm birth risk early in the pandemic, but this effect fully disappeared by 2022. The negative impact ended almost 1 year earlier in ZIP codes with high COVID-19 vaccination rates. The results suggest that the deployment of COVID-19 vaccines may have prevented thousands of preterm births.



Agricultural intensification and childhood cancer in Brazil

Marin Elisabeth Skidmore, Kaitlyn M. Sims, and Holly K. Gibbs


Class VI: Applied Biological, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


Forgotten food crops in sub-Saharan Africa for healthy diets in a changing climate

Maarten van Zonneveld, Roeland Kindt, Stepha McMullin, Enoch G. Achigan-Dako, Sognigbé N’Danikou, Wei-hsun Hsieh, Yann-rong Lin, and Ian K. Dawson

As the climate changes, major staple crop production in sub-Saharan Africa becomes increasingly vulnerable. Underutilized traditional food plants offer opportunities for diversifying cropping systems. In this study, the authors used climate niche modeling to assess the potential of 138 traditional food plants to diversify or replace staple crop production in sub-Saharan Africa by 2070. The authors report that staple crops may no longer be able to grow at approximately 10% of locations by 2070. Further, the authors identified 58 traditional crops that provide complementary micronutrient contents suitable for integration into staple cropping systems under current and projected climatic conditions. The results suggest that diversifying sub-Saharan African food production with underutilized crops could improve climate resilience and dietary health.



Climate presses and pulses mediate the decline of a migratory predator

T. J. Clark-Wolf, P. Dee Boersma, Ginger A. Rebstock, and Briana Abrahms


About PNAS

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