Prestigious NSF CAREER Award

Peter Cornish receives a large grant to fund research project

Peter Cornish, assistant professor of biochemistry and University of Missouri Informatics Institute core faculty, received the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award in recognition for his recent research project, “Investigation of RNA Unwinding and Ribosomal Frameshifting.”

Cornish’s project focuses on how viruses disrupt the function of ribosomes, large molecules in the body that create proteins and are responsible for many bodily functions. This disruption leads to a process called frameshifting, which means ribosomes read the RNA molecules in a different order than normal and consequently create different proteins that result in viral replication and propagation.

“We hope to understand how frameshifting happens,” Cornish said. “If we gain information on how to target this process we can potentially use the process to inhibit frameshifting and thus inhibit viruses.”

Therefore, understanding how and why frameshifting occurs and how to stop this disruption could lead to a treatment for viruses, such as HIV, and disease, such as cancer. The NSF recognized the merit in this research project by honoring Cornish.

The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is the NSF’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who “exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the integration of education and research within the context of the mission of their organization,” according to their website.

The CAREER award comes with a $789,026 five-year grant that will fund the work of two graduate students. The funding from the award will begin July 1. Undergraduate students also will have the opportunity to assist in the research.

NSF award applicants must explain the intellectual merit behind their research and the broader impact their work will have on the scientific community. As part of the project’s broader impact, Cornish will be holding a one-week seminar workshop on his research for local high school students and teachers in summer 2013.

Cornish received his doctorate in biochemistry from Texas A&M University in 2005 and his undergraduate in biology, chemistry and mathematics from Graceland University. He was in a post-doctoral program at the University of Illinois before coming to MU in March 2010 for his current position. He began teaching at MU in fall 2011.

Cornish’s graduate adviser, David Giedroc, and his post-doctoral adviser, Taekjip Ha, have had the greatest impact on his work in science, he said. Outside of work, Cornish enjoys spending time with his family.

For more information about the NSF CAREER award visit