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2014 Bergey Award goes to German Microbiologist Hans-Peter Klenk

Looking back at 20 years of bacterial taxonomy research

In recognition of his outstanding contributions to bacterial taxonomy, Hans-Peter Klenk, Head of the Department of Microorganisms at Leibniz Institute DSMZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures, Braunschweig, Germany, has recently been awarded the prestigious Bergey Award by Bergey's Manual Trust, Athens, GA, USA. He accepted the award during the 2014 meeting of Bergey’s International Society for Microbial Systematics at Edinburgh, Scotland. The award comes with a cash prize of USD 2,000.

Hans-Peter Klenk was recognized for both his contributions to the Sequencing Orphan Species (SOS) Initiative and the Genomic Encyclopedia of Bacteria and Archaea (GEBA). “I am honored by this recognition by the Bergey's Manual Trust and am elated at having been accepted into the exclusive circle of scientists who have received this award since 1978,” said Klenk.

Both the SOS Initiative and the GEBA project study the evolution of microorganisms and the genealogical relationships among prokaryotes, the Bacteria and Archaea. While the SOS Initiative that ended in 2013 relied on 16S rRNA data for this research, the GEBA project looked at entire genomes. 16S rRNA is a specific type of RNA molecule contained in the small ribosomal subunits of prokaryotes.

For more than three decades, 16S rRNA has been used as an almost perfect marker in bacterial systematics and species identification because it is universally present and highly conserved between species. The aim of the SOS Initiative was to establish for the first time a complete set of high quality 16S rRNA sequences of the type strains of all species of Bacteria and Archaea with validly published names.
The curators of the microbiological collection of DSMZ contributed a large portion of the biomass and sequences required for completing the 16S rRNA sequence database, allowing this international project to establish a more reliable Tree of Life, closing many of the existing gaps. This Living Tree is an important and useful tool for taxonomists working on microorganisms.

“Data on complete genomes are even more meaningful for classifying microorganisms than individual marker genes, such as those of rRNAs that have traditionally been used to reconstruct bacterial evolution,” explained Hans-Peter Klenk. “These data allow for significantly more reliable conclusions regarding genealogical relationships and the phylogeny of bacteria.”

Based on this reasoning, Klenk has been collaborating for seven years now with the U.S. Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute (JGI) located in Walnut Creek, CA, USA, in establishing the GEBA. This project strives to analyze the genomes of the type strains of all cultivated prokaryotes (Bacteria and Archaea). To this end, microorganisms are targeted that are located in the “dark, unexplored spots” on the bacterial phylogenetic tree. They can be found in large international collections of cultures such as that of DSMZ, which provide biomass and DNA to JGI, where the bacterial genomes are then sequenced. The subsequent scientific bioinformatical analyses of the genome data was in turn handled again by DSMZ.

Current research efforts by Hans-Peter Klenk's team involve state-of-the-art analyses in the field of phylogenomics, the study of bacterial phylogeny based on genome sequences. “We conduct comparative analyses of the sequences of entire genomes that allow us to understand the genealogical relationships of bacteria and their evolution at a level of precision that until recently was unimaginable. In the future, this knowledge will enable us to identify new bacteria, including pathogens, much more quickly and reliably,” said Hans-Peter Klenk.

This is the second time the Bergey Award has been given to a scientist at DSMZ. In 1991, it went to Erko Stackebrandt, DSMZ's former CEO. In 2009, Stackebrandt also became a recipient of the Bergey Medal, as did his predecessor Hans Hippe six years earlier. The Bergey Medal is given in recognition of life-long contributions to the field of systematic bacteriology.


About Hans-Peter Klenk: (Press material/: @DSMZ/Hanno Keppel)
In 1986, Hans-Peter Klenk graduated from Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany, with a major in biochemistry. He completed his doctoral dissertation at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, Germany, in 1994, and was awarded formal authorization to teach at Technische Universität Darmstadt, Germany, in 2004, as well as formal professorship of microbiology at Technische Universität Braunschweig, Germany, in 2007. Currently, Klenk is Head of the Department of Microorganisms at Leibniz Institute DSMZ. Over the course of his scientific career he has held various positions in the public and private sectors. He is author or co-author of more than 400 publications that have been cited about 15,000 times. Klenk is Associate Editor of Standards in Genomic Sciences (SIGS) and a member of the Board of Directors of the Genomic Standards Consortium (GSC). He is an honorary member of the Hungarian Society for Microbiology (2009) and of the Association of Microbiologists of India (2010).

Press material: @DSMZ/Hanno Keppel

About the Bergey Award:
Established in 1936, Bergey's Manual Trust is dedicated to developing bacterial systematics and nomenclature. The Trust was founded by the American physician and bacteriologist David Hendricks Bergey (1860-1937), who described numerous bacteria and published the standard reference text for the identification and classification of bacteria, Bergey's Manual of Determinative Bacteriology. Today, the Trust is responsible for publishing Bergey's Manual of Systematic Bacteriology, an internationally recognized reference for bacteriologists. The Trust's Editorial Office is located at the University of Georgia. The Trust presents exceptional researchers with the annual Bergey Award in recognition of outstanding contributions to bacterial taxonomy and with the Bergey Medal in recognition of life-long contributions to the field of systematic bacteriology. www.bergeys.org

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About Leibniz Institute DSMZ:
The Leibniz Institute DSMZ – German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH is a Leibniz Association industrial applications. Offering comprehensive scientific services and a wide range of biological materials it has been a partner for research and industry organizations worldwide for decades. DSMZ is one of the largest biological resource centers of its kind to be compliant with the internationally recognized quality norm ISO 9001:2008. As a patent depository, DSMZ currently offers the only option in Germany of accepting biological materials according to the requirements of the Budapest Treaty. The second major function of DSMZ in addition to its scientific services is its collection-related research. The Brunswick (Braunschweig), Germany, based collection has been around for 42 years and holds more than 48,000 cultures and biomaterials. DSMZ is the most diverse collection worldwide: In addition to fungi, yeasts, bacteria, and archea, it is home to human and animal cell cultures, plant viruses, and plan cell cultures that are archived and studied there. www.dsmz.de