The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has named Scott Strobel, Ph.D., newly appointed chair and professor of molecular biophysics and biochemistry at Yale, an HHMI Professor. Strobel, one of 20 new HHMI Professors nationwide, will receive $1 million over four years from HHMI to implement an innovative introductory science course in which undergraduates will take “bio-prospecting” trips to the world’s rain forests in search of promising naturally occurring chemicals.

In Strobel’s new course, students will spend the spring semester learning evolution, ecology, and molecular and structural analysis. During spring break, they will take a working trek to a rain forest—the Amazon and New Zealand are among the proposed locations—to collect branches and twigs and their associated microbes. Students will spend a rigorous summer session classifying their finds and identifying new bioactive compounds.

Strobel, an expert on RNA splicing and protein synthesis, won Yale’s Dylan Hixon Prize for Teaching Excellence in the Natural Sciences in 2004. His father, Gary Strobel, Ph.D., professor emeritus of plant pathology at Montana State University, discovered the anti-cancer compound taxol in a fungus that grows on yew trees; the elder Strobel now travels the world in search of other naturally occurring compounds that may lead to the development of useful drugs.

“The scientists whom we have selected are true pioneers, not only in their research but in their creative approaches and dedication to teaching,” says Thomas R. Cech, Ph.D., HHMI president. “We are hopeful that their educational experiments will energize undergraduate science education throughout the nation.”