Grand Prize Winner – Dr Daniel Streicker
a Sir Henry Dale Research Fellow at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, UK
From: Virginia, USA
Category: Environmental Life Science
Essay: From persistence to cross-species emergence of a viral zoonosis
Daniel Streicker is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Biodiversity, Animal Health and Comparative Medicine at the University of Glasgow. His research applies longitudinal field studies, phylogenetics and epidemiological modeling to understand the process by which infectious diseases emerge and establish in new host species. He received his PhD from the Odum School of Ecology at the University of Georgia in 2011 and worked previously as an Emerging Infectious Diseases Fellow at the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pathogens that jump between species spark new pandemics and create recurrent threats to health, agriculture and wildlife conservation. Major gaps in our understanding of how emergence happens constrain efforts to mitigate its impacts on societies. Viral infections of bats have proven an important and scientifically tractable system within which to decompose the process of pathogen emergence in the field and laboratory. This work demonstrates how interactions between human actions and animal ecology can create unforeseen challenges for disease interventions in wildlife and has identified patterns in virus sharing between species that may help predict the origins and long-term outcomes of species jumps.
Category winner – Dr Gabriel Victora
a Whitehead Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
From: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Category: Molecular and Cellular Biology
Essay: Stop, go, and evolve
Gabriel Victora is currently a Whitehead Fellow at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, where he heads the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Dynamics. He received his PhD from the New York University School of Medicine for work done jointly at that institution and at the Rockefeller University. He is a recipient of the 2011 Weintraub Award for Graduate Research, the 2012 March of Dimes Foundation Basil O’Connor Scholar Award, and the 2012 NIH director’s Early Independence Award.
To cope with the astounding rate of evolution of certain pathogens our immune systems rely on a remarkable, real-time Darwinian process that enables antibodies to adapt at breakneck speed. Dr. Victora’s work focused on how antibody evolution correlates with, and depends on, the elaborate choreography undertaken by B lymphocytes – the body’s antibody producing cells – during this evolutionary process. By combining mouse genetics and intravital microscopy, it was possible to track the migration of B lymphocytes over long periods and to reveal some of the factors that control this migration, furthering our understanding of how antibody evolution works.
Category winner – Dr Dominic Schmidt
a Strategy Consultant at L.E.K. Consulting in London.
From: Berlin, Germany
Category: Genomics, Proteomics, and Systems Biology
Essay: Dynamics and evolution of vertebrate transcriptional regulator binding
Dominic Schmidt is a Strategy Consultant at L.E.K. Consulting, in London. He received his PhD in Oncology from the University of Cambridge.
In his doctoral work, he combined experimental and computational approaches across multiple species to study how gene-regulation and genomes are evolving. Prior to his PhD he received his German Diplom degree in biochemistry from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics and the Free University of Berlin. Since 2012, he has worked as a strategic advisor to the biopharma and life sciences industry.
Vertebrate species contain hundreds of different cell types and each cell is equipped with an almost identical copy of the same genome. Regulatory mechanisms allow cells to deploy only the parts of the genome that are required for their specific function, yet the evolution of these mechanisms remains poorly understood. Dominic Schmidt described work demonstrating that a key mechanism of gene regulation is surprisingly divergent between vertebrate species. These differences in regulatory interactions lead to the conclusion that gene regulation can change over evolutionary times and provide possible explanations for the origin of species-specific phenotypes and traits.
Category winner – Dr Weizhe Hong
a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at California Institute of Technology
From: Beijing, China
Category: Developmental Biology
Essay: Assembly of a neural circuit
Weizhe Hong was born in Beijing, China and received a B.Sc. degree in biological sciences at Tsinghua University. He received his PhD degree at Stanford University, working under the guidance of Liqun Luo. His PhD research focused on the cellular and molecular mechanisms of wiring specificity during olfactory system development. Dr. Hong received the Genetics Society of America’s Larry Sandler Memorial Award for the best PhD dissertation on the Drosophila research, and presented the Larry Katz Memorial Lecture in the Cold Spring Harbor Conference for the best PhD dissertation on neural circuit research. He is currently a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at California Institute of Technology, working in David Anderson’s laboratory on neural mechanisms underlying social and emotional behaviors.
Precise connections established between different neurons are essential for the proper function of the nervous system. Deciphering the mechanisms of how such connections are established during development will contribute to our general understanding of the organization, development, and function of the nervous system. The olfactory systems from insects to mammals display remarkable similarities with respect to organization principles, and are among the most striking examples of connection specificity in brain development. Dr. Hong uncovered central roles of cell-surface molecules in regulating different stages of olfactory system assembly, and elucidated general principles by which connection specificity is established during brain development.