The Academy has awarded this year's Beijerinck Premium (EUR 50,000) to virologist Xander de Haan (35), post-doctoral researcher with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Utrecht University. De Haan has been awarded the prize for his original work concerning the genetics of coronaviruses.
Coronaviruses, which can cause colds and SARS in humans, have a gigantic genome. Dr De Haan has developed a method to manipulate and used it to make a number of significant discoveries. He demonstrated the genome's flexibility, showing that it is capable of tolerating a number of different mutations. For example, changing the sequence of coronaviral genes had no effect. It was also possible to delete some genes, although this led to a loss of ability in the virus to infect its host. Conversely, it was possible to add foreign, viral and non-viral genes to the genome. Taken together, these findings open up new possibilities for vaccine development.