The EMBO Gold Medal is awarded each year to young scientists for outstanding contribution to life sciences in Europe.
This year, Markus Ralser, head of the Molecular Biology of Metabolism Laboratory at the Crick and head of biochemistry at the Charité University Medicine in Berlin, is one of only two researchers receiving the prestigious award.
Markus has been recognised for his work advancing understanding of cell metabolism. He has developed new analytical methods to study metabolism and uncovered how the metabolic network can adapt to protect cells from changes in environment without needing changes in gene expression.
His work has also shown that entire metabolic reaction sequences can occur in the absence of enzymes. This finding was the first experimental evidence for a ‘metabolism first’ hypothesis about the origin of life.
While in recent years, his team have been working on new technologies to quantify enzymes and other proteins in thousands of samples, using machine-learning algorithms to identify interactions between genes and metabolic pathways.
The second recipient of the EMBO Gold Medal this year is Sarah-Maria Fendt, from the VIB Center for Cancer Biology and KU Leuven. She has been recognised for work studying metabolic changes during cancer proliferation and metastasis formation.
Markus Rasler says: “It’s brilliant to receive this award. I was also so happy to hear that Sarah-Maria Fendt is the other recipient—I've known her for many years and she does fantastic work. It feels great that metabolism is back in focus.”
This year, Markus’ team have also re-focussed some of their work to study COVID-19. They developed a technique to identify proteins in the blood of patients with this disease and found 27 biomarkers that could be used to predict whether a patient is likely to become severely ill.
“When the pandemic hit Europe, we were working on a high-throughput proteomics pipeline and we were able to repurpose this to study COVID-19. We have been actively engaged in this research ever since and the potential markers we found could help doctors to predict how ill a patient will become and provide scientists with new targets for drug development,” added Markus.
EMBO Member Stephen Oliver at the University of Cambridge, says: “Markus is an impressive young molecular biologist who is performing cutting-edge research in metabolic systems biology, excelling in all domains of the subject: ‘omic’ analyses, mathematical modelling, and molecular genetics”.