The 2020 University Fund Wageningen Research Award was presented to Jorge C. Navarro-Muñoz, a former postdoc researcher at Wageningen University & Research.
His publication, on which he collaborated with several PhD candidates and masters students of the Wageningen Bioinformatics Group, was published in Nature Chemical Biology. The paper was also featured on the cover of the magazine in January 2020. Dr Marnix Medema, who co-authored the article and nominated the candidate, accepted the award on behalf of Jorge: A certificate, a replica of the sculpture ‘The Wageningen tree’, and a sum of € 2,500.
Various students and researchers from the Bio-informatics department collaborated to find a new method allowing scientists to search for new antibiotics much faster than was previously possible. To this end, they use BiG-SCAPE, an open-source computer programme developed by Jorge Navarro-Muñoz. This programme enables extensive research of biosynthetic diversity, through analysing thousands of genomes simultaneously, instead of studying, analysing and mapping single genomes of antibiotics producing organisms individually. This newly developed method was instrumental in the discovery of a microbial gene cluster essential to the repressing of plant pathogens. Insight in the diversity of chemical structures is vital to developing medicines to treat cancer, for example. Furthermore, it helps us understand how micro-organisms and plants interact with their environment. The newly developed software is fast, accurate and widely applicable.
The jury praised the publication. “The practicability is very high and scalable, and the scientific impact is enormous. This is demonstrated by the fact that other scientists are already using the application. It works well.” The jury expects the research will become a cornerstone in experimental work that centres around data.
For young scientists
The University Fund Wageningen presents the Research Award annually to young scientists (under 40 years of age) that have published an excellent and original scientific article in the previous year. The jury for the 2020 award consisted of Prof. dr Erik van der Linden, who chaired the jury; prof. dr Bas Zwaan; prof. dr ir. Alfons Oude Lansink; dr Daan Swarts, winner of the 2015 Research Award; Sumanth Mutte MSc, one of the winners of the 2019 Research Award.