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Humboldt award winner Nir Friedman to be guest researcher at the MDC

Israeli systems biologist and bioinformatician Prof. Nir Friedman of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJI) is this year’s recipient of the prestigious Humboldt Research Award. Friedman’s host institution in Germany will be the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), where the internationally renowned researcher will collaborate with Prof. Nikolaus Rajewsky.

What occurs within a cell when information is being processed and cellular decisions are being made? This question is at the core of Nir Friedman’s research. Friedman recently won the Humboldt Research Award for his fundamental developments in the field of systems biology. The award, bestowed by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, recognizes international scientists who are at the pinnacle of their career. The winning scientists are invited to Germany to carry out their own research projects in collaboration with other researchers.

It was Prof. Nikolaus Rajewsky, a fellow systems biologist and Scientific Head at the Berlin Institute for Medical Systems Biology (BIMSB), who nominated Friedman for the award. The two researchers will further develop their collaborative work at the MDC, with Friedman coming to Berlin for a three-month research stay. “Prof. Friedman is a highly respected researcher internationally who has made extremely influential contributions in the field of machine learning,” said Rajewsky.

Friedman was one of the first researchers to use the Bayesian network statistical model to analyze the activation of genes. Bayesian networks create dependencies between variables within a system and allow deducing the most probable outcomes of experimentally determined variables that cannot be measured directly. Using this model, Friedman was able to identify groups of collectively regulated genes for the first time, along with their regulators and the conditions under which they are activated. Friedman and his research group are currently using high-throughput methods to decipher regulatory pathways of gene activation in yeast.

At the MDC, Friedman and Rajewsky hope to identify new regulatory signals at the level of RNA – the short-lived intermediate carrier of genetic information that is created during DNA transcription and serves as a template for protein synthesis. These signals function as an address, determining the final destination of a new protein. This new concept of interplay between RNA sequences and the subcellular distribution of proteins brings together two regulatory processes that, until now, were believed to function independently of one another.

This task will see the two scientists combine their expertise in the functional high-throughput screening of yeast cells, bioinformatics, and RNA biology. “The Humboldt Research Award enables us to intensify cooperation between the BIMSB/MDC and HUJI, particularly also through Nir Friedman’s involvement in the jointly founded German-Israeli Helmholtz Research School ‘Frontiers in Cell Signaling and Gene Regulation’ (SignGene),” says Rajewsky. Alongside his research activities at the MDC, Friedman will run a summer school. An exchange between young scientists from the laboratories in Jerusalem and Berlin is also planned.

Prof. Nir Friedman is Scientific Director at the Israeli Centers of Research Excellence (I-CORE) as well as a professor at the School of Computer Science and Engineering and the Alexander Silberman Institute of Life Sciences at HUJI. From 2009 to 2012, Friedman was president of the Israeli Society for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology. He is the second Humboldt award winner with whom the MDC will have cooperated: in 2011 the MDC welcomed Nobel laureate Prof. Aaron Ciechanover as a guest researcher.

Photo: Nir Friedman


Vera Glaßer
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch
Head of Communications department (interim)
Tel: 030/94 06 - 2120