The 2019 University Fund Wageningen (UFW) Research Award goes to Sumanth K. Mutte MSc, Dr. Hirotaka Kato, both at the Biochemistry group of Wageningen University & Research, led by prof. Dolf Weijers. In their joint paper, published in eLife, the researchers pioneered a new field in plant biology: evolutionary biochemistry. Both researchers received a certificate, a replica of the statuette ‘The Wageningen Tree’ and a sum of €2500.
In their study at the Laboratory of Biochemistry at Wageningen University & Research Sumanth Mutte and Hirotaka Kato worked together as two specialists with different expertise. While Sumanth Mutte included his bioinformatic expertise, Hirotaka Kato complemented the research as an experimental biologist. “Very effectively and innovatively,” as the jury stated. Sumanth single-handedly designed a clever bioinformatics strategy to identify response proteins of the plant hormone auxin from more than a thousand plant species, including many algae and early land plants. Doing so, he could identify the ‘birthplace’ of auxin response in the earliest land plants, more than 450 million years ago, and he could reconstruct the steps in evolution that made the system complex.
The jury greatly appreciated the publication. “The paper provides answers to a pressing question in plant biology, and by doing so it has not only opened up possibilities for new research lines, both applied and fundamental, related to auxin biology, but it will stimulate similar approaches related to hormone regulation and the generation of biodiversity in other organisms as well. This paper thus provides an outstanding example of the research excellence.” The jury concludes: “A deserved winner of the University Fund Wageningen Research Award.”
For young researchers
The University Fund Wageningen presents the Research Award to a young WUR researcher (under the age of 40), who has published an excellent and original scientific article in the calendar year prior to the award. Jury members for the 2019 edition were:
Prof. Bas Zwaan, Professor and Director Graduate School Production Ecology & Resource Conservation; Prof. Johan van Leeuwen, Professor of Experimental Zoology and Director of the graduate school Wageningen Institute of Animal Sciences; Prof. Karin Schroen, Personal Professor Agrotechnology and Food Sciences and Daan Swarts PhD, Assistant Professor at the Laboratory of Biochemistry and winner Research Award 2015.