In memoriam Dr.Ir. C.P. (Kees) van der Beek (1951-2020)

Published on
January 5, 2021

September 9, 2020,
Kees van der Beek passed away suddenly at the age of 68 being on holiday in
Portugal with his family. Memorial services were held September 25th
with limited attendance due to corona. His passing away was commemorated in the December issue of Wageningen World.

Kees was one of the first of a new breed of PhD students at the
Laboratory of Virology in 1975 going entirely molecular to understand (baculo)virus
infection. He studied Plant Protection at the Landbouwhogeschool (cum laude),
now Wageningen University, and entered the laboratory giving a plant virology
course to fill in for dr. Dick Noordam, who went on a mission to Indonesia. At
the same time, Kees started a PhD to study the genetic origin of baculovirus
polyhedrin, a topic defined earlier by dr. Dick Peters. The genetic origin of
polyhedrin seems a trivial question now, but at the time there were two
‘schools’. One claimed that the polyhedron was an insect response to virus
infection, the other ‘school’ was convinced that polyhedrin, the main protein constituent of polyhedra, was a virus-coded protein. Kees convincingly showed that
polyhedrin was the latter by using sophisticated molecular methodology, i.e. by
hybridizing polyhedrin mRNA specifically to baculovirus DNA. His paper in
Virology on this topic has become a classic and formed a basis for the
development of the baculovirus-insect cell expression system. He defended his
thesis successfully in 1980, with Jan van der Want as his promotor.
At the time of his PhD Kees entered a fast scientific and personal development
track. He was invariably a meticulous and hard worker and showed expert
technical and conceptual skills. He had a fine character with always a
listening ear. His collaboration with Janneke Saaijer-Riep as a technician was
mutually productive and beneficial with an occasional chess game with Leo,
Janneke’s husband, at their home.

In 1980 Kees joined the section Genetics at the Gist-Brocades firm in
Delft, where the founding father of Virology, Martinus Beijerinck officiated as
scientific director in the 1890’s. Kees started a genetic program to improve
yeasts for the production of antibiotics. He stayed with the company until the
take-over by DSM in 1998. The same year he received an MBA. Then Kees temporarily joined the National Forensic Institute in Rijswijk to further develop DNA profiling and profile storage, but stayed there for the rest of his career. He
was among others involved in the improvement of information storage and search
capacity of data bases with an ever-increasing number of profiles. In 1997 only
49 profiles were in the data base, in 2017 this number increased to 250.000,
with 60,000 matches with samples offered for analysis. In 1999 Kees solved his
first case (Sybine Jansons) by identifying the assailant, a bus driver. Many
cases followed and he became the custodian of the Dutch DNA data base. Kees
also set up collaboration with other European forensic and police
organizations. Kees retired in 2015 and received wide acclaim for his contributions
in the development of forensic methodology and organization within the NFI and
in Europe at large. Within the NFI he was better known as ’Mr DNA’ and
rightfully so.

Kees was also active outside his job. He was an early member of the
Dutch Biotechnology Association and drafted its first ‘code of conduct’. As a
hobby, Kees developed a life-long interest and expertise in succulents. Last
year clearing out the attic, I found an old picture book of succulents from
J.P. Thijsse, which he enjoyed accepting. Kees frequently joined festivities of
the Laboratory of Virology and was happily recollecting memories of his PhD
time then. After his retirement in 2015 he enjoyed combining his expertise in
forensics with his family history. Kees is survived by his wife Diana, his daughter
Mariska, his son Robert and two grandchildren. Kees will be remembered as a
fine and amiable person and excellent scientist with virology roots. He will be
dearly missed by all who knew him and worked with him. The laboratory of
Virology is proud to have had Kees among its PhDs and also of his impressive

Dr. Just M. Vlak

Emeritus-Professor at
the Laboratory of Virology

University & Research