An exciting part of the Alumni Association board meeting on 3rd November 2008 was the selection of a John Kendrew Award winner for 2009. The already demanding task of having to compare the achievements of scientists from entirely different fields was made even more difficult in the face of the outstanding achievements of this year's candidates. "We are very proud of this standard", commented the new Chair of the board, Giulio Superti-Furga.
After a long discussion, the board selected Julius Brennecke, former EMBL predoc in Developmental Biology from 2001-2006, now postdoc at the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory in the USA, for his revolutionary contributions to science in the field of RNA silencing.
Julius and his colleagues were the first to use computational methods to identify microRNA-regulated mRNAs successfully; to identify the biological logic of microRNA regulation of gene expression including the identification of physiological miRNA targets; to implicate microRNAs in providing robustness and noise suppression to biological circuits; to discover the "ping-pong" mechanism for piRNA amplification and to characterize the piRNA pathways as a genomic "immune system" and as the molecular basis of the hybrid dysgenesis phenomenon.
Aside from these unprecedented series of outstanding achievements, Julius has also taken time out for active conservation biology work in the Galapagos Islands and the Serengeti, Tanzania.
Julius will return to Europe in January 2009 to take up a position as Group Leader at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) in Vienna. He will receive his award and present a public lecture describing his work at EMBL lab day on 18 June 2009.
The Alumni Association board is aware that the award is given to a researcher working in the miRNA field for a second time. It is, however, keen to stress that the award will continue to be selected entirely on merit, irrespective of field or affiliation to any EMBL group. Future applicants will be encouraged to also highlight any effort in the area of science communication, technology development and general community or extracurricular activities
We would like to congratulate Julius and thank the other excellent candidates, and wish them all success for the future!
Giulio Superti-Furga Chair, Alumni Association Director
Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences