University Fund Wageningen (UFW) aims to promote the prosperity and growth of Wageningen University & Research (WUR). With this in mind UFW yearly awards the Research Award. This year the ceremony will take place at the symposium ‘What is Life’ on 12 March 2018. This symposium is a part of the Science Week in the jubilee programme of 100 years WUR.
The prize will be awarded by University Fund Wageningen to a WUR-researcher, younger than 40 years of age, who has published an outstanding and original scientific article in the calendar year preceding the ceremony. The award comprises a certificate with jury decision, a replica of the Wageningen Tree and a monetary prize of €2500, which can be spent as the researcher desires.
The deadline has been extended. Until 28 February 2018 12.00 hrs, it is possible for all members of the scientific staff of WUR to nominate excellent researchers by clicking the orange button. If there are any questions or suggestions, please feel free to send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The submitted publications will be reviewed by a jury. All publications from WUR that have been published in the indicated period are permitted to enter.Theses, dissertations and publications from professors are excluded from consideration. However, an article can still be considered if a professor is listed as co-author.
The publication should be of outstanding scientific value. More specific, that means that the jury pays attention to creativity and originality of the study, breadth and depth, importance and usability and composition and language.
All members of the scientific staff of WUR can make a recommendation. It is possible to submit a publication from another chair group or research unit than your own. It is not allowed to send in your own work. For more information check the guidelines.
The jury for the Research Award 2018 will consist of:
- Prof. dr. ir. APJ (Arthur) Mol, Rector Magnificus / vice-president Executive Board
Wageningen University & Research
- Prof. dr. ir. IJM (Imke) de Boer, Professor Wageningen University & Research Animal Production Systems
- Dr. Martin N. Mwangi, Winner Research Award 2017
- Prof. dr. RGF (Richard) Visser, Professor Wageningen University & Research
Plant Breeding / Dean of Science
The 2017 Research Award from University Fund Wageningen (UFW) has been granted to nutritional scientist Dr Martin N. Mwangi. He was granted the award during the 99th anniversary celebration of Wageningen University & Research (WUR) on 9 March. He received the prize for his incredible scientific publication on enriching meals for pregnant Kenyan women with iron, which led to higher birth weight of babies and, in turn, a better start to these young lives. Martin Mwangi received a prize of €2500 and a small replica of the ‘De Wageningse Boom’ (Wageningen Tree) sculpture.
Martin N. Mwangi (1980) conducted his ground-breaking research at the Cell Biology and Immunology chair group of WUR. In his winning article, published in 2015 in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), he further pursues his original research to examine whether administering iron has an impact on the risk of infection by the Plasmodium parasite, which causes malaria. He did not find that it had any effect on that, but he did discover an interesting side effect. The birth weight of children born to mothers who received iron was considerably higher, specifically 150 grams heavier (3200 versus 3050 grams for mothers who received the placebo). 470 pregnant women participated in the research.
Mwangi also showed that administering iron to pregnant women via food led to increased storage of iron in the foetus, which resulted in the child getting off to a better start after birth with iron deficiencies only appearing later on. The effects of iron deficiency include anaemia. During pregnancy, this can become a serious health problem. Anaemia occurs during pregnancy in 80% of the countries in the world, affecting 57% of pregnant women in Africa.
The applicability of the research results extends beyond Kenya. Each year, 20 million children worldwide are born with low birth weights. Administering iron can be an option for increasing birth weight in multiple areas.
Mwangi graduated cum laude from Maseno University in Kenya. In 2009, he received his Master’s diploma in Nutrition and Health in Wageningen, where he also obtained his doctorate in 2014. He is currently a postdoc researcher at the Division of Human Nutrition, where he performs research in collaboration with the Laboratory for Entomology into the absorption of iron and zinc from edible insects as an option for enriching the diets of Kenyan children.
The University Fund Wageningen Research Award is granted to a Wageningen researcher under 40 for his or her original and prominent scientific publication. The jury makes their assessment based on criteria such as creativity, the breadth and complexity of the study, and its importance for science and practice.
The jury also held the articles of the other two nominees, Peter Bourke and Prarthana Mohanraju, in high esteem.
Effect of Daily Antenatal Iron Supplementation on Plasmodium Infection in Kenyan Women: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Mwangi, MN; Roth, JM; Smit, MR; Trijsburg, L; Mwangi, AM; Demir, AY; Wielders, JPM; Mens, PF; Verweij, JJ; Cox, SE; Prentice, AM; Brouwer, ID; Savelkoul, HFJ; Andang'o, PEA; Verhoef, H. Jama. Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015 Sep 8, Vol.314(10), pp.1009-1020.
Jury• Prof. dr. ir. APJ (Arthur) Mol, Rector Magnificus / Vice-president Executive Board Wageningen University & Research
• Prof. dr. RGF (Richard) Visser, Professor Wageningen University & Research Plant Breeding / Dean of Science
• Prof. dr. ir. IJM (Imke) de Boer, Professor Wageningen University & Research Animal Production Systems
• DC (Daan) Swarts PhD, Postdoctoral EMBO Advanced Fellow University of Zurich and winner of the Research Award 2015
Daan Swarts MSc, a postdoc employee affiliated to the Laboratory for Microbiology at Wageningen University & Research, was awarded the prize for his publication ‘DNA-guided DNA interference by a prokaryotic Argonaute’, which appeared last year in the leading scientific journal Nature. This article, of which he is the first author, describes the spectacular discovery of a microbial resistance system which can be seen as the evolutionary forerunner of the well-known RNA interference (RNAi) system in eukaryotes. His research opens up totally new routes to a targeted use of DNA in everything from bacteria and fungi to plant and human cells. He and his supervisor, Prof. John van der Oost, are named as inventors in two patents dealing with this discovery.
- Nature article: DNA-guided DNA interference by a prokaryotic Argonaute
The jury was particularly impressed by Swarts’s unique discovery and the impact this could have on further genetic and biotechnological research. The jury believes the publication by Swarts et al is a breakthrough. According to the jury, the research can lead to new opportunities for curing hereditary diseases in humans.
- Prof. dr. Martin Kropff, Rector Magnificus
- Prof.dr.ir. Johan van Arendonk, Dean of Science
- Prof.dr.ir. Arthur Mol, directeur Wageningen Shool of Social Sciences
- Dr. ir. Stan Brouns, winner Research Award 2012
Members of the jury that had an involvement in the article where excluded from the evaluation of that article to ensure an independent evaluation.
The paper of Stan Brouns concerns nothing less than the discovery of a major immune system of bacteria; A major mechanism of these microbes to survive.
It is shown that microbes have a region in their genome that is composed of specific repetitive sequences and in between these repeats viral sequences did occur. This genetic information of the bacterium was used as small RNAs, containing these viral sequence and with a very specific length, did occur. This by itself was intriguing as it reminded of the RNA interference mechanism that had previously been discovered in eukaryotes. Important studies that had led to the Nobel Prize and an honoree doctorate at Wageningen University & Research for David Baulcomb. So you might say the studies in bacteria are just an extension of what we already knew from eukaryotes. However this is not the case. Especially the work of Stan Brouns revealed the fantastic biological beauty of the prokaryotic immune system. He identified the enzyme that could cleave out the small RNA containing the viral sequence and most importantly he showed that it is used in a defense against the virus. In other words he discovered that microbes create an immune system by integrating small fragments of the viral genome in a specific place , called CRISPS, in their own genome. This region now serves as a memory of previous attacks, like our own immune system, but it can also be transferred to the daughter cells.
So a paper in which a beautiful biological system is discovered. A discovery with a high impact for applications (as is illustrated by the patent) This by itself is a sufficient justification for the award. However to judge a paper it is good to ask the question ; and what is next? Is this a paper that paves the way for new research ? This paper has been and is a corner stone for a major expansion at an international level of the CRISPS research.
It is also worth mentioning how this research started just 2 years before this publication in 2006. As a post doc in John van de Oost’s group, it is Stan who takes the decision to initiate a new research line on CRISPS Showing a very good sense for area’s that can lead to major novel discoveries. It is sense for intriguing novel biology, combined with excellent experimental skills that led to the seminal publication. A publication that during the last couple of years has been shown to be the fundament of a major new research line.
The jury for the Research Award, comprising Prof. T. Bisseling, Prof. E.H. Bulte, Prof. Kemp, Dr B.G.J. Knols, Dr J.J.M. Vervoort and chaired by the Rector Magnificus, Prof. M.J. Kropff, has unanimously decided to present the Research Award of the Wageningen University Foundation to:
Dr J.J.B. Keurentjes for his article “The genetics of plant metabolism”, published in Nature Genetics (38, 842-849, 2006), of which he is lead author.
In addition, the jury has decided to give an honourable mention to Dr R. Rozendal for his article “Principle and perspectives of hydrogen production through biocatalyzed electrolysis”, published in the International Journal of Hydrogen Energy (31, 1632-1640, 2006).
Award winner Keurentjes
What is the importance of plant metabolites?
With his article, Keurentjes has played an important role in providing more understanding of the mechanisms that operate inside plants. Plants are a primary source of food for people, animals and many other organisms on earth. Besides the nutrients that provide us with energy, plants also produce a wide range of other substances, known as secondary metabolites. These are often complex molecules about which little is understood. Why do plants make them and what is their function? However, we do know something about some of these plant substances. For example, they can have a positive or negative effect when consumed, such as the flavonoids in fruit and vegetables. These not only provide variations in colour (yellow, red and purple pigments), but some flavonoids also act as antioxidants and may reduce damage to cells, slowing ageing and possibly preventing cancer and cardiovascular disease. Another example is taxol, a toxic substance in yew trees, which is also an important medicine if used properly. It has been used with great success in chemotherapy against various types of tumours. There are a great number of other secondary metabolites with important pharmaceutical or health-promoting effects that are used as the basis of traditional Chinese medicine.
Complex secondary metabolites such as taxol cannot be synthesised chemically, or only with great difficulty; the production of these substances depends almost entirely on plants. Plants are therefore outstanding factories for producing these types of valuable, but complex, molecules.
National and international importance of water purification
René Rozendal has worked on the technology for a third generation of water purification installations. Partly due to the efforts of the Sub-department of Environmental Technology of WUR, in recent decades new forms wastewater purification have been introduced. Water purification is extremely important in the Netherlands and around the world. The first generation of wastewater treatment systems produced clean water, but also a great deal of active sludge as a by-product. The second generation of wastewater treatment systems, which became known primarily due to the work of Gatze Lettinga and associates, operated on the principle of anaerobic water purification, where clean water with much less active sludge was produced than was the case with the first generation. Rozendal's study has given an impulse to the third generation of wastewater treatment installations. This third generation not only produces clean water, but almost no active sludge, and perhaps most important, this type of installation can also contribute to the development of a hydrogen economy. Preliminary studies have shown that up to 20% of the need for energy in the Netherlands can be supplied with this new technology. An important advantage of this technology is that there is no competition with food production, which is often the case with other types of biofuels (biodiesel, bioethanol). The third generation of wastewater purification technology has excellent potential to develop into an important source of sustainable hydrogen, without environmentally harmful side effects. zich te ontwikkelen tot een duurzame waterstof bron, zonder milieu belastende bijwerkingen.
Rozendal's research is embedded in TTIW Wetsus, the centre for sustainable water technology. This is a research institute in which WUR, the University of Twente and recently Delft University of Technology have joined forces with many industrial partners to develop new technologies for sustainable water.