9. June 2023 | Magazine:

Chemist Jörn Piel receives Inhoffen Medal 2023 HZI and Technische Universität Braunschweig honour specialist for marine natural products

Many active substances used in medicine are based on naturally occurring products. However, the producers of the active substances often do not grow or grow poorly under laboratory conditions. This also applies to marine invertebrates such as sponges, which live in close association with bacteria. With the help of synthetic biology, complex natural substances can also be made in the laboratory independently from the producing organisms. For his scientific work on natural products from marine sources, the Friends of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig and Technische Universität Braunschweig are awarding Prof Jörn Piel from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich, Switzerland, the Inhoffen Medal 2023. The award ceremony took place on 8 June 2023 at the HZI in Braunschweig.

The research group of Inhoffen Medal 2023 winner Prof Jörn Piel investigates how structurally complex natural products are produced. “Prof Jörn Piel is an outstanding scientist who has done ground-breaking work on microbial natural products research. His molecular biology-based work, for example on uncultured bacteria, opens up new areas of research that have received and continue to receive great attention worldwide”, says laudatory Prof Stefan Schulz from the Institute for Organic Chemistry at Technische Universität Braunschweig about the awardee.

Award ceremony of the Inhoffen Medal 2023: from left: Laudator Prof. Stefan Schulz, award winner Prof. Jörn Piel, Chairman of the Friends of the HZI Prof. Klemens Rottner, Scientific Director of the HZI Prof. Dirk Heinz. Photo credit: Verena Meier/HZI

Jörn Piel studied chemistry at the University of Bonn and received his doctorate there in 1998. He then conducted research at the University of Washington, USA, and led research groups at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena and at University of Bonn. Since 2013, Piel has headed the “Bacterial Natural Products” group at the Institute of Microbiology at ETH Zurich.

The Inhoffen Prize, awarded by the Friends of the HZI and endowed with 8000 euros, is considered the most prestigious German award in the field of natural products chemistry. It is awarded as part of the Inhoffen Lecture, a joint ceremony of the HZI, Technische Universität Braunschweig and the Friends of the HZI.

During the ceremony, the Friends of the HZI also awarded three PhD awards to young scientists at the HZI. Dr Alaa Alhayek (HZI site Helmholtz Institute for Pharmaceutical Research Saarland (HIPS)), Dr Chunlei Jiao (HZI site Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI)) and Dr Bernard C. Silenou (HZI site Braunschweig) were honoured for their doctorates completed in 2022. The HIPS and the HIRI are sites of the HZI in cooperation with Saarland University and Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg, respectively.

About the Inhoffen Medal

To commemorate the chemist Prof Hans Herloff Inhoffen (deceased in 1992), Technische Universität Braunschweig, the HZI (formerly: German Research Centre for Biotechnology (Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung or GBF)) and the Friends of the HZI annually organise the Inhoffen Lecture (since 1994) at which the award bearing his name is presented. Inhoffen taught at Technische Universität Braunschweig from 1946 to 1974 and served as its Rector from 1948 to 1950. Moreover, in 1965, he founded the “Institute for Molecular Biology, Biochemistry and Biophysics” (IMB), the predecessor institution of the GBF and, by extension, of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.