Bayer Foundation presents Science Awards

This year the Bayer Foundation is presenting their renowned Hansen Family Award to Professor Claudia Höbartner. The Hansen Family Award is presented alternating with the Otto Bayer Award every second year. Leading scientists working in German-speaking countries are recognized with the award for exemplary research in the medical sciences and related fields. The award with a prize money of 75,000 euros was established in 2000 by Professor Kurt Hansen, a former Chairman of the Board and Supervisory Board at Bayer.

Claudia Höbartner from the University of Würzburg (JMU) is receiving the award in recognition for her ground-breaking research in the structural and mechanistic characterization and application of functional nucleic acids, called deoxyribozymes for DNA or ribozymes for RNA, respectively. Nucleic acids were long time primarily seen as molecules for information storage and information transfer in living cells. With her research Claudia Höbartner could demonstrate that these molecules can also play a crucial role in numerous biochemical reactions, like enzymatic proteins are known for. Beside these new basic insights into the structure and function of catalytic nucleic acids, her research has opened novel applications in medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions.

Claudia Höbartner has been a professor at the Institute of Organic Chemistry at University of Würzburg since 2017. For her research and scientific engagement, she has just recently been awarded with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation and with the highly reputed Bavarian Order of Merit. She has published her work in high profile scientific journals and is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.

Early Excellence in Science Awards 2023

In addition to the Hansen Family Award and the Otto Bayer Award, the Bayer Foundation honors every year early career scientists for their outstanding research with the Early Excellence in Science Award (EESA) in Biology, Chemistry, Data Science and Medical Science. These awards with a prize money of 10,000 euros each, are presented to young scientists from any country worldwide.

This year’s award in the Biology category is presented to Dr. Gal Ofir (Max Planck Institute for Biology, Tübingen, Germany). Using bioinformatics and experimental methods, Gal Ofir investigates antiviral immune mechanisms in plants. His research has led to the groundbreaking discovery that mechanisms and biochemical actions of bacterial immune systems share a high degree of similarity with eukaryotic immune systems. This research provides not only important basic insights into the (co)evolution of bacteria and their predators but also significantly advances our understanding of biological defense mechanisms in eukaryotes including plants, which is of high relevance for novel applications in environmentally friendly crop protection.

Dr. Erin Stache (Princeton University, USA) is the winner of the award in the Chemistry category and recognized for her multidisciplinary research combining the fields of synthetic organic chemistry with photochemistry and polymer chemistry. One major aspect of her research is to find new solutions for a more sustainable plastics economy, i.e., degradation of polymers and reuse of monomers in a circular economy. Her research thereby paves the way for modern applications in materials sciences.

In the Medical Science category, the award goes to Dr. Vivi Maketa (University of Kinshasa, DR Congo) for her exceptional contributions to the design and implementation of research projects on infectious and neglected diseases. With her devoted work she provides essential proofs for the safety, immunogenicity, and efficacy of novel drugs and vaccines urgently needed, especially in low-income countries in Africa and other continents worldwide.

The award for Data Science in the Life Sciences is attributed to Dr. Michael Skinnider (Princeton University and the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, USA) for his research at the intersection of computational science and disease biology. Through the development of a sophisticated computational platform and a novel artificial intelligence system, Michael Skinnider’s work enables the identification of novel antibiotics in microorganisms and the discovery of new therapeutic molecules within the human body or specifically the human microbiome.

The award winners were selected by the Bayer Foundation’s Science Council: Professor Edith Heard (Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Germany and Chairwoman of the Bayer Foundation’s Board of Trustees), Professor Regine Kahmann (Emeritus Acting Head, Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg, Germany), Professor Lothar Willmitzer (Emeritus, former Director of the Molecular Plant Physiology Department, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Golm, Germany), and Professor Dirk Trauner (Penn Integrates Knowledge (PIK) Professor, University of Pennsylvania, USA).

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