Awards, People, Research, Science & environment

Bat virus expert Cara Brook named L’Oréal For Women in Science fellow

Brook will receive $60,000 for research to understand how bats' immune systems protect them from viral infections, and the implications for human health

Cara Brook portait
Cara Brook, one of five 2020 L’Oréal For Women in Science fellows. (Photo courtesy of L’Oréal USA)

Cara Brook, a UC Berkeley researcher whose work on bat viruses has taken on new urgency with the rise of COVID-19, is one of five recipients of this year’s L’Oréal For Women in Science fellowships.

The awards were announced yesterday (Monday, Nov. 16) by L’Oréal USA, which sponsors the annual fellowships to recognize early-career female scientists. Brook and the other recipients each will receive $60,000 to advance their research.

She and the four other fellows will participate in a livestreamed panel discussion at 11 a.m. PST on Tuesday, Nov. 17 about the experiences of postdoctoral women during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brook, currently a Branco Weiss “Society in Science” postdoctoral fellow in UC Berkeley’s Department of Integrative Biology, studies wild bats and the viruses they carry, hoping to understand how their immune systems protect them from viral infections, as well as predict when these viruses might spill over into human populations.

Bats are natural reservoirs for the most harmful viral diseases, including coronaviruses like SARS-CoV-2, the cause of COVID-19, and Ebola, a type of filovirus. Bats are also remarkably long-lived, Brook said, with lifespans up to three-and-a-half times longer than those of equivalently sized placental mammals. It is thought that the evolution of mammalian flight, a physiologically demanding activity unique to bats, promotes viral tolerance and cellular longevity.

Brook’s research in Madagascar combines approaches from field ecology, virology, genomics and quantitative epidemiology. Her goal is to understand the mechanisms by which bats resist the harmful effects of viruses, as well as the damaging effects of aging, to inform development of therapeutics to combat these processes in the human population.

Profile of five women scientists named For Women in Science fellows by L’Oréal USA. (Video courtesy of 

The L’Oréal USA For Women in Science program is the U.S. component of the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards, a global program created in 1998 that recognizes and rewards women scientists around the world. Through the international program and the nearly 50 national and regional programs — which include the L’Oréal For Women in Science program — more than 3,400 female scientists from 116 countries have received fellowships to pursue promising research projects. The L’Oréal Group is one of the largest makers of beauty products worldwide.

Two UC Berkeley postdocs were among the 2015 L’Oréal USA fellows, while two UC Berkeley faculty members — Jill Banfield in 2010 and Jennifer Doudna in 2015 — have received L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science International Awards.

L'Oréal USA Announces 2020 For Women In Science Fellows