2004 Max Planck Research Prize for Martin Vingron and Eugene W. Myers

05/06/04

Highly endowed prize for international cooperation awarded by Max Planck Society and Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Prof. Martin Vingron, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, Germany, and Prof. Eugene W. Myers from the University of California, Berkeley, USA, are the two winners of the 2004 Max Planck Research Prize, worth 750,000 Euros each. The purpose of the international Research Prize awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society is to promote collaboration on cutting-edge research between scientists from Germany and abroad by creating a flexible framework to launch, consolidate or expand international cooperation. The Max Planck Research Prize plays a major role in promoting and shaping the disciplines for which the prize is awarded.

The Max Planck Research Prize for International Cooperation [1] sponsors German and international scientists doing research in particularly promising fields. The focus is on innovative fields that need to be further refined in the German research arena. The award is granted to one scientist working in Germany and one working abroad, both of whom have already been recognized on the international level and from whom continued high-caliber scientific work can be expected in the context of an international cooperation. Funding for the program is provided by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Max Planck Society and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.

The prize is awarded annually in a special sub-field of engineering technology, the natural sciences, life sciences or the humanities. The specific subject is selected jointly by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Max Planck Society. In 2004, two scientists who specialize in the field of bioinformatics will receive the award:

Professor Martin Vingron (42), Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin since 2000 [2]:

The Gene Searcher

Bioinformatics, or computational molecular biology, combines many different disciplines, such as molecular biology, statistics, computer science and genetics. Martin Vingron, Professor of Computational Molecular Biology and Director at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin, is one of the leading experts in this field. His main research interests center around gene expression - the transformation of genetic information into gene products - and the regulation of gene activity.

Many diseases, or even disease stages, can be characterized by the specific pattern of activity ("gene expression profile") exhibited by the approximately 30,000 genes of the human organism. In the near future, physicians will have tools like DNA microarrays, or "gene chips", enabling them to scan their patients' DNA for tiny mutations of individual genomes. The results will permit the design of precisely focused therapies individually tailored to each patient. Martin Vingron's scientific work has provided an essential basis for this development.

Professor Eugene W. Myers (50), Professor of Computer Science and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, since 2003 [3] :

Genes and Computer Science - Software for Analyzing the Genome

The complete map of the human genome, which comprises three billion components, is a milestone of modern science. A significant contribution to this work came from Eugene "Gene" W. Myers, Professor of Computer Science at the University of California at Berkeley and one of the pioneers of computational molecular biology.

As head of the bioinformatics department at Celera Genomics, he developed methods for stringing together the small segments (clones) of DNA that are generated during the sequencing process. It was Myers who recognized that the problem of locating gene segments in the right order (assembly) could be solved by first selecting the clones according to their length. Using simulations, he was able to resolve the sequence overlaps for the entire human genome using only clones of defined length. This proved to be the key to the assembly of the complete genome.

This year, the focus of the Max Planck Research Prize was modified to take particular account of the international competitive situation, the national funding spectrum and the existing general research programs in the European Union. In the future, the award committee will no longer select as many as twelve award recipients, but rather just two; the increased endowment of EUR 750,000 will improve the winners' research opportunities considerably.

The award ceremony will take place during the Annual Meeting of the Max Planck Society, which will be held at the Liederhalle in Stuttgart on June 24, 2004 at 5:30 p.m.

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