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Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award goes to molecular biologist

Professor Jens Stougaard receives Denmark's largest individual research award, the 2016 Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award for Technical and Scientific Research, valued at DKK 5 million. Candidates do not apply for this award from the VILLUM FOUNDATION.

Professor Jens Stougaard is the recipient of the 2016 Villum Kan Rassmussen Annual Award of DKK 5 million. The foundation has chosen to honour Stougaard with the award in recognition of his extraordinary work on plant biology (Photo: Villum Foundation).

The statement accompanying the award describes the foundation’s motivation for giving the award to Stougaard in the following terms: “We have selected you to receive this award in recognition of, and as a source of inspiration for, your excellent research on plant biology, including the root nodules that are the result of symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.” The foundation also highlights the extremely high degree of originality that characterises Stougaard’s research.

The Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award cannot be applied for. The Villum Foundation board selects the recipient of the annual award on the recommendation of a committee of experts which solicits a statement on each candidate from international experts in the field of research in question.

“It is a great honour to receive the Villum Kan Rasmussen Annual Award for my contribution to plant biology, and I am pleased and proud that the Villum Foundation committee and board have chosen to recognise my research efforts.”

Jens Stougaard is one of the world’s leading researchers in his field. According to an analysis from ScienceWatch, Stougaard was among the one per cent most cited researchers in the world in the field of ‘plant and animal science’ in 2014.

Since 2007, he has headed the CARB basic research centre, which has currently 40 affiliated researchers, over half of whom are international. The research group’s work is currently based on its previous discovery of how legumes establish symbiosis with bacteria in the surrounding soil. These bacteria are able to turn atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds that plants can use. This means that legumes are able to create their own fertiliser through their symbiosis with these bacteria.

Research into this symbiosis may ultimately enable us to reduce the amount of chemical fertiliser we use in agriculture, which would contribute to the development of a more sustainable system of food production – a necessity if we are to feed a growing world population.

In collaboration with colleagues in similar research groups in other countries, the Aarhus-based research group is currently investigating how to transfer this symbiosis to cereal crops such as maize. The group selected maize because it is the main food source for sub-Saharan populations, where access to fertiliser is limited, both by economic and logistic factors.

The ENSA maize project has received approximately USD 10 million in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Stougaard has also received EU funding for his research through a European Research Council Advanced Grant of approximately DKK 17 million.

“I strongly want to contribute to making the ENSA project a success. It was one of the first biotechnology ideas to make the front page of The New York Times when the techniques to identify and clone genes were developed way back when I was a student. And it could be great fun to be part of realising it. Whether we’ll succeed while I’m still active – that I don’t know. But it’s fun to be part of seeing how far we can get, and what we can achieve. And then our research will come into play, and I’d really like to see that happen at some level or another,” explains Stougaard.

Jens Stougaard in brief
Age: 62
Since 2007: Head of the Centre for Carbohydrate Recognition and Signalling (CARB)
Since 2006: Professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University.
Jens Stougaard has been affiliated with Aarhus University throughout his research career with the exception of periods abroad at the following institutions:
1990: John Innes Center for Plant Science Research, the Sainsbury Laboratory, United Kingdom
1984:  OECD Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne, Germany

Stougaard earned his PhD from the University of Sussex in England after receiving his MSc in agriculture from the former Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen.

About the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award

This year, the Villum Foundation has decided to honour two researchers to mark the 75th anniversary of VKR Group. Normally, only one award is presented each year.

  • On 22 January 2016, the Villum Kan Rasmussen Annual Award will be presented both to Professor Lone Gram of the Technical University of Denmark and to Professor Jens Stougaard of Aarhus University.
  • Thirty-three researchers have received the award since it was created.
  • The Villum Foundation is a non-profit foundation that supports technology and natural science research as well as environmental, social and cultural project both in Denmark and internationally.
  • The Villum Foundation was established in 1971 by civil engineer Villum Kann Rasmussen, the founder of the VELUX, a Danish company that manufactures windows and skylights. The Villum Foundation is the majority shareholder in the VKR Group.

More information

Professor Jens Stougaard
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics
Aarhus University, Denmark
stougaard@mb.au.dk – mobile +45 6020 2649