10 March 2020

Cozzarelli Prize for bioinformatics paper

Utrecht scientists win prestigious publication prize

Utrecht biologists are awarded a prize by the prestigious American National Academy of Sciences. They will receive the Cozzarelli Prize for their publication in PNAS in 2019, in which they unravel the evolutionary history of a central protein complex in cell division. That was announced by PNAS on March 10.

The Cozzarelli Prize is awarded annually by the National Academy of Sciences to six research teams whose PNAS articles have made outstanding contributions to their field. Each team represents one of the six classes of the National Academy of Sciences. Berend Snel, Eelco Tromer, Jolien van Hooff and Geert Kops, are awarded the prize in the field of Biological Science for their publication Mosaic origin of the eukaryotic kinetochore.  "To us, winning the Cozzarelli prize highlights that we substantially contributed to our understanding of how important protein complexes evolve”, says Eelco Tromer, who was affiliated with both Utrecht University and Hubrecht Institute at the time.

The kinetochore is a large protein structure that drives separation of chromosomes during cell division. Image: Banafseh Etemad.

Cell division

In the winning paper they unravel the evolution of the protein complex that animals, plants, and fungi use for cell division, called the kinetochore, which emerged about 1.5 billion years ago. They reveal that it originated from recruiting proteins globally, that is, from other eukaryotic cellular systems, from prokaryotic cellular systems and completely novel proteins. Subsequently, the kinetochore expanded by duplicating these proteins within the kinetochore, resulting in a machinery of more than fifty proteins.

“The prize committee hence recognizes that our reconstruction of the evolutionary history of the kinetochore lays down a model for how other important protein complexes of eukaryotes might have emerged as well. Thereby, our publication illuminates how eukaryotes, organisms that are much more complex than prokaryotes such as bacteria, originated”, says Jolien van Hooff, who was affiliated with both Utrecht University and Hubrecht Institute at the time. “Winning this prize demonstrates that in-depth, purely bioinformatic investigations are able to greatly impact the field of cellular biology and evolution.”

We are especially happy since this year we are celebrating 50 years of bioinformatics
Berend Snel
Professor Bioinformatics

Bioinformatics

It is the first time that Utrecht scientists win this prize. It comes at a special moment for the bioinformatic researchers: "We are especially happy since this year we are celebrating 50 years of coining the term bioinformatics. In this context we think it is especially fortunate and fitting that we win this prize with a purely bioinformatic study on evolution", says Berend Snel of Utrecht University.