press information / news

22.01.2016

Pioneering achievements in sequencing bacterial genomes: Karen Nelson receives Helmholtz International Fellow Award

Microbiologist Prof. Dr. Karen Nelson is the winner of this year's Helmholtz International Fellow Award. The distinction is endowed with 20,000 euros and includes an invitation to flexible research stays at Helmholtz centres.

Karen Nelson

Prof. Karen Nelson, Source: J. Craig Venter Institute

Cooperation with internationally renowned scientists is central to the Helmholtz Association. The Helmholtz International Fellow Award was established with this goal in mind. The Helmholtz Zentrum München (HMGU) nominated Prof. Dr. Karen Nelson, President of the J. Craig Venter Institute. "We are pleased that the jury followed our recommendation, because Dr. Nelson is working in a research area that is very relevant to the HMGU in many ways," states Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter, Head of the Environmental Genomics Research Unit (EGEN).

Nelson is one of the leading scientists in the field of microbiome research. Her research field extends into both health and environmental research, the centre’s two main focus areas. Prof. Dr. Annette Peters, Director of the Institute of Epidemiology II, and Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter both campaigned for Nelson's nomination. Both have known the renowned microbiologist for years and are looking forward to further cultivating the work with her now.

Ground-breaking work to describe microbiomes

Based on Dr. Nelson's fundamental work, particularly in the area of molecular, cultivation-independent analysis of the structure and function of microbiomes, nowadays researchers understand the human microbiome as an important factor driving human health and investigate links between changes in microbiome structures and diseases like diabetes or obesity. Her first studies on bacterial diversity in the human digestive tract, which were published in 'Science' in 2005 and 2006 are milestones in the field of human microbiome research," states Michael Schloter. During her doctoral studies (1992 - 1996) Nelson was already involved in the genome sequencing of various microbial species. The description of additional genomes such as those of the radiation-resistant bacterium Deinococcus radiodurans and the pathogen Streptococcus pneumoniae were important parts of Nelson`s work in the late 90s of the last century. To date, her works have been cited more than 20,000 times.

From basic research to application

"By integrating basic research with work on patients, she helped to transfer her findings into the clinical routine," Annette Peters comments on Karen Nelson's achievements. "The studies where she described important parts of the human microbiome have set new standards around the world." Nelson has already been honoured with numerous awards and prizes for her scientific achievements which include more than 150 publications and several books and patents. In 2013 she formed Biome Healthcare with J. Craig Venter which was later acquired by ‘Human Longevity Inc.’ a company dedicated to link genomic and clinical data with the goal of facilitating personalized medicine. "The Helmholtz International Fellow Award will allow us to strengthen our collaboration in the field of microbiome research and should promote the exchange among our students and scientists in order to further network us," Annette Peters continues.

Further information

Background:
With the award, Helmholtz International Fellows also receive an invitation to flexible stays at one or more of the Helmholtz centres with which collaboration is either already under way or would be useful or profitable in the future. Each year up to 10 Helmholtz International Fellow Awards are presented. Any member organization of the Helmholtz Association can make nominations at any time. Meanwhile 53 fellows have received the award since the first presentation of the Helmholtz International Fellow Awards in 2012. The prize is intended not only for researchers, but also for scientific managers abroad who have accomplished outstanding results in the topic areas relevant for Helmholtz. The candidates must be nominated by a Helmholtz centre conducting research in comparable subjects. The prize is financed by the Initiative and Networking Fund of the Helmholtz president and award winners are selected by the Helmholtz Executive Committee. The most important criterion for this award is the quality of the scientific achievement. A total of ten awards can be presented each year, and candidates can be recommended at any time.

The following researchers have also received a 2015 Helmholtz Fellow Award:

Prof. Javier Arístegui Full Professor of Biological Oceanography & Ecology and Director of the SITMA, Service of Marine Technology / Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain

Prof. Dr. Jenny Nelson Professor of Physics at the Department of Physics / Imperial College London, Great Britain

Prof. Dr. Ulrik Ringborg Director of the Cancer Center Karolinska and Professor of Oncology at the Karolinska Institute / Sweden

Prof. John C.A. Spence Richard Snell Professor of Physics at the Department of Physics, Arizona State University and Director of Science for the NSF Science and Technology Center  “Biology with X-ray Lasers” / USA

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,300 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 18 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members.

The Institute of Epidemiology II (EPI II) focuses on the assessment of environmental and lifestyle risk factors which jointly affect major chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health. Research builds on the unique resources of the KORA cohort, the KORA myocardial infarction registry, and the KORA aerosol measurement station. Aging-related phenotypes have been added to the KORA research portfolio within the frame of the Research Consortium KORA-Age. The institute’s contributions are specifically relevant for the population as modifiable personal risk factors are being researched that could be influenced by the individual or by improving legislation for the protection of public health.

The independent Environmental Genomics Research Unit (EGEN) investigates microbiomes in various compartments and their importance for the particular host. The focus here is on the definition of key microbiomes and the corresponding genetic potential, as well as their inducibility. The work additionally focuses on interactions between microbiomes from the environment and the human microbiome, as well as the significance for human health. EGEN is a part of the Department of Environmental Sciences.


Scientific contact at Helmholtz Zentrum München:

Prof. Dr. Annette Peters, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Institute of Epidemiology II, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg – Tel. +49 89 3187 4566 -

Prof. Dr. Michael Schloter, Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health (GmbH), Environmental Genomics Research Unit, Ingolstädter Landstr. 1, 85764 Neuherberg - Tel. +49 89 3187 2304 -

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