Researcher finalist in Blavatnik Awards

Prof Edze Westra

A University of Exeter researcher has won recognition in the 2020 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK.

Professor Edze Westra, who studies how bacteria protect themselves from virus attacks, receives $30,000 (£23,000) as a finalist in the “life sciences” category.

The awards, run by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, are given to scientists under the age of 42 whose work is “already changing science and our understanding of the world”.

The winners – Professor Timothy Behrens (life sciences), Dr Kirsty Penkman (chemistry) and Professor Claudia de Rham (physical sciences & engineering) – each receive $100,000 (£75,000).

Professor Westra, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute on Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall, said: “The Blavatnik Awards are the most prestigious awards for my career stage, so this recognition of my work means a lot to me.

“I would like to share this success with my talented postdocs and students, whose creativity, dedication and hard work has been key to the achievements of my lab.”

Professor Westra’s lab studies how ecological variables drive the evolution of various immune strategies in bacteria, with an emphasis on CRISPR-Cas adaptive immune systems, and examines their co-evolutionary consequences.

Professor Neil Gow, Exeter’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Impact), said: “I am delighted, on behalf of the whole community here at the University of Exeter, to be congratulating Edze Westra on being conferred this highly prestigious award from Blavatnik.

“Edze is an extraordinarily talented bioscientist, who has made a number of significant breakthroughs already in his career.

“His current work on the evolution of different immune strategies in bacteria in response to phage therapy will have critical implications for multidrug resistance in the future.”

Sir Leonard Blavatnik, Founder and Chairman of Access Industries and the Blavatnik Family Foundation, and member of the President’s Council of the New York Academy of Sciences, said: “The UK has cultivated much of the world’s leading scientific talent.

“We are incredibly proud to elevate these select scientists to an international stage that will enable them to be recognised globally, prepare them to become world-class leaders in their scientific fields, and propel the wheel of innovation and societal progress.”

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