University of Utah oncologist Susan E. Mango is among 25 MacArthur fellows announced Tuesday.

Mango, who was recently named professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard University, will receive the five-year, $500,000 "no strings attached" award as one of the world's young geniuses designated in 2008 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Mango, 46, is a leading researcher worldwide in the field of organogenesis — the study and discovery of genes that govern the formation and physiology of the digestive tract. Mutations in these genes are frequently associated with both cancer and birth defects.

The Mango Lab at the U. focuses on nematodes — a ubiquitous roundworm that outnumbers other animals in both individual and species counts found in locations as diverse as Antarctica and oceanic trenches. Research there is identifying the complex patterns of genetic expression needed to develop organs.

Through her study of this nematode's pharynx, Mango hopes to identify and understand proteins that establish cellular identity and clarify how a single transcription factor can coordinate the expression of hundreds of genes as part of the process.

The formation and physiology of organs is one of the fundamental mysteries of biology. Although regulators of organ development and function have been identified, the mechanisms they use to orchestrate the molecular and cellular events of organogenesis are still unclear. A better understanding of these developmental processes could lead to new treatments to silence malfunctioning genes that can lead to cancer.

Mango earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1983 and her doctorate from Princeton University in 1990. Following postdoctoral research at the University of Wisconsin, she joined the U. faculty as an assistant professor in 1996.

Mango was chosen for her creativity, originality and potential to make important contributions in the future, said MacArthur Foundation President Jonathan Fanton. MacArthur Fellowships offer the opportunity for fellows to accelerate their current activities or take their work in new directions, he said.

The MacArthur Fellows Program was the foundation's first major grant-making initiative. The inaugural class of MacArthur fellows was named in 1981. Including this year's selections, 781 people, ranging in age from 18 to 82 at the time of their selection, have been named MacArthur fellows.