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PathoGenoMics PhD Award 2010

ERA-NET PathoGenoMics, an initiative of the European Commission aimed at advancing transnational genome-based research programs on human-pathogenic microorganisms, announced the winners of the Ph.D. Award 2010 for the most outstanding Ph.D. theses in this field. The three winners, awarded 2000 € each, are Dr. Itay Tirosh from Israel, Dr. Andreja Kovač from Slovenia and Dr. Cristina Latasa from Spain. The award ceremony took place at the joint meeting of ERA-NET PathoGenoMics and network of excellence EuroPathogenomics held on the 22nd April 2010 in Pécs, Hungary. Prof. Eliora Ron (Tel Aviv University) handed over the Awards, Dr. Carmen Buchrieser (Institut Pasteur) introduced the Award winners, Nicole Firnberg and Dr. Marion Karrasch represented the ERA-NET PathoGenoMics.

PathoGenoMics PhD Award 2010 Award Presentation
Picture 1: PathoGenoMics PhD Award 2010 Award Presentation.
From left to right: Dr. Cristina Latasa, Dr. Itay Tirosh, Prof. Dr. Eliora Ron, Dr. Carmen Buchrieser, Dr. Marion Karrasch, Nicole Firnberg, Vita Majce (in proxy of Dr. Andreja Kovač)

About the Chosen Ph.D. Theses

Itay Tirosh received the award for elucidating the evolution of gene expression regulation on a genome-wide scale. Deciphering the mechanisms underlying the phenotypic variation among different species is crucial to our understanding of evolution. For decades, scientists have primarily focused on mutations that change the protein-coding part of genes as the main driver of phenotypic variation. However, we now realize that organisms are not merely defined by their ensemble of genes, but also by how these genes are regulated, and gene regulation is a major source of variation between species. Dr. Tirosh studied and compared the genetic regulatory programs of different yeast species, and showed that the expression regulation of some genes undergoes an accelerated evolution, thus enabling a more rapid divergence of species.

Andreja Kovač received the award for discovering compounds that could serve as novel antibiotic drugs. By using computational methods followed by biochemical analysis, Dr. Kovač identified novel inhibitors of enzymes involved in biosynthesis of the bacterial cell wall. Some of the inhibitors already showed promising antibacterial activities. Dr. Kovač's work is an important part of the never ending battle against emerging multidrug resistant (MDR) strains of pathogenic bacteria – one of the serious medical threats in modern healthcare.

Cristina Latasa received the award for studying biofilm formation in Salmonella, the pathogen responsible for the foodborne illness salmonellosis. A biofilm is an aggregate of microorganisms in which cells adhere to each other and/or to a surface. The creation of biofilm helps bacteria resist external threats such as antibiotics and sanitizers. In the case of Salmonella, biofilm also contributes to effective infection of vegetables and industrial facilities. Dr. Latasa characterized a new protein involved in Salmonella biofilm formation and host colonization, as well as pointed to a biochemical pathway that can be perturbed in order to prevent biofilm formation. Biofilms have been found to be involved in a wide variety of microbial infections in the body, and understanding the process of biofilm formation and ways to disrupt it are crucial for developing efficient antimicrobial drugs.

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