Winner of the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize 2020

Congratulations to Zheren Zang for winning the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology 2020 prize! The award includes a cash prize of €500 and the offer to present a plenary lecture at NLSEB2021.

Jury report

“The winner of the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize for the best publication in evolutionary biology published in 2020 is:

Zhang, Du, de Barsy, Liem, Liakopoulos, van Wezel, Choi, Claessen & Rozen (2020) Antibiotic production in Streptomyces is organized by a division of labor through terminal genomic differentiation. Science Advances 2020; 6: eaay5781.

The prize will be awarded to the first author, Zheren Zhang, who did this work as a PhD student at the Leiden University Institute of Biology. The publication describes the discovery of a fascinating mechanism of division of labor in bacteria, which provides new insight into bacterial social evolution. Colonies of the multicellular Streptomyces coelicolor produce hypermutant cell types that show frequent genomic deletions, rearrangements and amplifications. These cell types suffer strongly reduced sporulation, becoming effectively sterile, but show an increase in the production and diversity of antibiotic compounds, which provides competitive benefits in the soil environment. While a trade-off between sporulation and antibiotic production is evident at the individual level, the colony shows no reduction in spore production as long as the hypermutant antibiotic-producing cells remain a minority fraction, while the whole colony benefits in competitive environments from the antibiotics produced by these cells. The resulting division of labor, including the production of a terminally differentiated “sterile caste”, closely parallels related behaviors in social insects, and seems to develop de novo in colonies via the production of hypervariable mutants with unstable genomes. The study exposed this phenomenon using a combination of different methods, including genomic sequencing, bacterial growth and fitness assays, proteomics and NMR profiling. The results are well-presented and convincing. The jury was excited about the novelty of the mechanism that was discovered. This work clarifies why and how division of labor develops within colonies, and highlights the sophisticated social strategies that can evolve in microbes.”

Prof. Paulien Hogeweg, Dr. Marjon de Vos and Dr. Koen Verhoeven

Jury of the 2020 Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize

Winner of the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize 2019

Congratulations to Langqing Liu for winning the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology 2019 prize! The award includes a cash prize of €500 and the offer to present a plenary lecture at NLSEB2021, as NLSEB2020 was canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Jury report

“The winner of the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize for the best publication in evolutionary biology published in 2019 is the paper by Langqing Liu and coauthors: Genomic analysis on pygmy hog reveals extensive interbreeding during wild boar expansion (Nature Communications 10, Article number: 1992 (2019)). This paper analyzes the genomes of the endangered Pygmy hog, and compares them to the genomes of individuals from nine other wild pig species, to reconstruct the evolutionary history of pig species. This evolutionary history is characterized by the recent successful expansion of one species, Wild boar, across a large geographic range, which completely replaced other pig species from the area; the Pygmy hog is the only surviving pig species that has not gone extinct in the Wild boar expansion area. The paper demonstrates that the expanding Wild boar did not simply replace the existing species, but it ‘absorbed’ them: clear evidence is presented of admixture between Wild boar and other pig species that it encountered during colonization, including Pygmy hog, whereby Wild boar incorporated genetic information from these other species into its genome. The authors argue that such admixture can have contributed significantly to the colonizing success of Wild boar, as the incorporation of genetic information from other species can have provided a genetic basis for adaptation to local environments encountered during colonization. The paper is a well-written and exciting example of how new genomic information can be used to infer evolutionary histories of species, and moreover to address the role that admixture plays in successful colonization. The jury was impressed by the comprehensive population genomic analyses, which produced clear results. These results have broad impact on the question what makes some species successful colonizers, which is a question that is relevant in many taxa.”

Prof. Paulien Hogeweg, Prof. Sander Tans and Dr. Koen Verhoeven

Jury of the Netherlands Evolutionary Biology prize