Alexander von Humboldt Professorship 2022

Bas E. Dutilh

Researchers have been trying to track down microorganisms that colonise human bodies and, especially, the intestines for many years. Amongst these microorganisms are viruses that specifically infect intestinal bacteria. Bas E. Dutilh from The Netherlands has made seminal contributions to exploring virus diversity and spearheads pioneering work in bioinformatics.

  • Nominating University: Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Porträt von Bas Dutilh
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Bas E. Dutilh looks on computers as tools for answering biological questions. In his opinion, the combination of bioinformatics on the one side and experimental lab studies on the other is the fastest way of acquiring new insights into biology. He is fascinated by ecological and evolutionary dynamics in the microbial world and investigates the interaction of microbes with one another as well as with their environment. For years, Dutilh has been studying the microbiome of colorectal cancer. His modelling has helped to reach a detailed understanding of the microbiome; based on his research, more sensitive tests for colorectal cancer have been developed.

Metagenomics, that is, the sequencing of an entire microbial colony’s genetic material, is a promising tool for discovering new microbes and viruses. In 2014, more or less by chance, Dutilh and his colleagues stumbled on previously unidentified bacteriophages (viruses that infect bacteria), known as “crAssphages.” More than half of humanity carry them around with them. Following Dutilh’s biocomputational discovery, crAssphage – named after the software crAss (cross-assembly) which was used to find the virus – was verified in experiments.

Thanks to its partnerships with eight non-university research institutions and its contacts to industry, microbiology at the University of Jena is very well-positioned. Bas E. Dutilh is invited to assume the Professorship in Viral Ecology which will be embedded in the “Balance of the Microverse” cluster of excellence. Whilst viruses and microbes are traditionally studied in isolation or in highly-simplified model systems, the University of Jena wants Bas E. Dutilh to establish an holistic approach through which viruses, microbes and their environment will be investigated simultaneously.

Bas E. Dutilh: website 

Brief bio

Professor Dr Bas E. Dutilh started his academic career in his native country of The Netherlands. In 2007, he completed his studies in biology and bioinformatics at Radboud University Nijmegen with a doctorate. Having spent time abroad in San Diego, United States, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he returned to The Netherlands and became an associate professor at Utrecht University in 2021. His research has been recognised with various awards, including the Dutch Research Council’s Veni Award and Vidi Award as well as an ERC Consolidator Grant.

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