Otto Bayer Award and Early Excellence in Science Award

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The Otto Bayer Award goes to Ruth Ley for her groundbreaking research into the human microbiome. Ruth Ley is one of the world’s leading scientist for microbiome research, a field she helped establish. The Bayer Foundation Science Council has now chosen her to receive the Otto Bayer Award 2020, worth EUR 75,000, for her pioneering research. The council has also announced the four winners of this year’s Bayer Early Excellence in Science Awards.  


Ruth Ley is a pioneer in the field of microbiome research – that is, research into all the microorganisms that naturally colonize a healthy human and can reach an impressive mass of approximately 1 kg. She was the first person to characterize the important role of the human gut microbiome as a whole in obesity, which opened up new approaches for everything from biomedical research on metabolic disorders to neurology and cancer research. Born in 1970, the British and American research scientist has been Director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Developmental Biology in Tübingen since 2016.


In her previous position as an associate professor at Cornell University in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Ley demonstrated that humans’ genetic disposition also influences the composition of their gut microbiome. By setting out this relationship, Ley and her team have shown that humans and their microbes have evolved together to develop a win-win symbiosis. In 2016, she founded the Department of Microbiome Science at the MPI for Developmental Biology in Tübingen. Building on the molecular principles of the symbiosis between humans and their microbes, her research since then has aimed to develop new treatments for chronic human diseases. 


“In presenting her with the Otto Bayer Award, we’re particularly honoring Ruth Ley for highlighting the importance of the microbiome for human health,” says Bayer Foundation Executive Director Dr. Monika Lessl, adding: “Bayer is also involved in microbiome research with external partners. For example, Leaps by Bayer announced an investment in Azitra a few days ago. This company conducts research into the human skin flora aimed at using state-of-the-art applications in dermatology. Our Crop Science division has also been researching the agricultural use of microorganisms in the Joyn Bio joint venture since 2017.”


 “We are delighted to honor this outstanding scientist with the Otto Bayer Award,” says Professor Patrick Cramer, Chairman of the Bayer Foundation’s Board of Trustees: “Her microbiome research work is pioneering and paves the way for developing new treatment methods.” 

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The Otto Bayer Award is named after Professor Otto Bayer, who died in 1982. He was head of research at Bayer AG (although not related to the company founder) and a pioneer of polyurethane chemistry.

Early Excellence in Science Awards 2020

The Bayer Foundation Science Council’s panel of judges has also decided which up-and-coming scientists are to receive this year’s Early Excellence in Science Awards worth EUR 10,000 each. The foundation presents this international award annually to outstanding young scientists and physicians in the early stages of their academic and clinical research careers.


In the Biology category 
the award goes to Dr. Julia Mahamid, researcher at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. Her cryo-electron microscopy studies include analysis of nuclear peripheries and the machinery of gene expression in bacteria. She has also further developed specimen preparations under cryogenic conditions for tomographic electron microscopy analyses.


In the Chemistry category
Dr. Josep Cornellà from the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung in Mülheim receives the award 
for his innovative research on the design and use of catalytic strategies in organic synthesis. In his research, he used new catalytic systems based on nontoxic, commonly occurring and easily accessible elements to unlock unforeseeable catalytic processes.


In the Medicine category
Dr. Nicolai Franzmeier from LMU Munich is being recognized for developing new imaging techniques to investigate Alzheimer’s disease. He has succeeded in identifying key brain mechanisms that underlie the spreading of tau pathology, i.e. the key driver of cognitive decline, across brain networks. These findings critically increase our understanding of Alzheimer’s disease progression and may be essential for developing new therapies against tau spreading and thus cognitive decline.


In the Data Sciences in Life Sciences category 
Dr. Marinka Zitnik, Harvard University (Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts) is being presented with the award for her innovative use of machine learning approaches to analyze multidimensional biomedical data. Innovative solutions such as those developed by Dr. Zitnik are essential for dealing with the massive amounts of data and their complexity in medicine and life sciences. 


Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it will not be possible to present the Otto Bayer Award and the four Early Excellence in Science Awards in person at an official ceremony till spring 2021. 


Bayer Foundation Science Council

This year’s winners were selected by the members of the newly founded Bayer Foundation Science Council from the numerous nominations received. The Council members are: Professor Edith Heard (Director General of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg), Professor Regine Kahmann (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg), Professor Lothar Willmitzer (Director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Golm), Professor Dirk Trauner (Janice Cutler Chair in Chemistry and Professor of Neuroscience and Physiology at New York University in the United States) and Professor Patrick Cramer (Director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and Chairman of the Bayer Foundation’s Board of Trustees).


Photo credit:

Ruth Ley: Daniel Fleitner

Josep Cornellà: Peter Gwiazda

Nicolai Franzmeier: Antonia Weingart

Marinka Zitnik: Rachel Eastwood  

Julia Mahamid: Kinga Lubowiecka


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