Science - September 29, 2016

Edze Westra receives Heineken Young Scientists Award

Rob Ramaker

Today, Wageningen alumnus Edze Westra receives the Heineken Young Scientists Award for Biochemistry and Biophysics. At the Beurs van Berlage, he will be awarded with a work of art and ten thousand euros.

Photo: Edze Westra (Jussi Puikkonen/KNAW)

Westra is receiving the prize for his work on the CRISPR-Cas system, which is found is some genera of bacteria. These bacteria use the system to defend from hostile viruses. CRISPR-Cas systems actively search for genetic material of known viruses and cut it. During his PhD in Wageningen, Westra contributed to the clarification of the functioning of these systems.

CRISPR-Cas has since also been used in biotechnology, to perform focused cuts and changes in the genetic material of plants, animals and humans. Westra does not work on this kind of applications. He did take a different path after receiving his PhD, however. One of the questions he now studies is how this kind of defence mechanisms evolved, and what role the systems play in nature. 

Heineken Young Scientists awardee Westra studied Molecular Life Sciences in Wageningen between 2001 and 2007. Afterwards, he did his PhD with the chair group Microbiology. He started working at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom in 2013.

Westra will be Wageningen’s guest tomorrow, together with another CRISPR-Cas pioneer: Jennifer Doudna. They will speak of CRISPR-Cas and the ethical dilemmas caused by the practical applications. Their talks will start at 15.00 in the Waaierzaal of the Orion building. You can register through this link.