Congratulations to Bio21 members on a prestigious international award

It is a great pleasure to congratulate Bio21 members, locally led by Professors Spencer Williams (School of Chemistry) and Malcolm McConville (Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology), on winning the Royal Society of Chemistry 2024 Chemistry Biology Interface Horizon Prize: Rita and John Cornforth Award.

The award was made to an international team of 29 scientists, with the nickname the "Biosulfur Recyclers", spanning three continents including Australia, Europe (University of York) and Japan (Hosei, Kyoto and Meiji Universities).

Australian awardees include two former Bio21 group members, Professors David Ascher (ex-Department of Biochemistry and Pharmacology) and Douglas Pires (School of Computing and Information Systems) and colleagues from WEHI (Professor Ethan Goddard-Borger and team) and Doherty Institute (Dr Sacha Pidot, A/Professor Nick Scott and teams).

It was a great pleasure to see the awardees included some of our next generation of early career scientists.  These include University of Melbourne PhD students Palika Abayakoon, Bruna da Silva, Arashdeep Kaur, Janice Mui, Marija Petricevic, Masters student Zunyang Zhang and post-docs Ruwan Epa and Eleanor Saunders.  A big congratulations!

The award acknowledges major contributions to understanding how microorganisms break down sulfosugar.  Sulfosugars are essential for life, are abundant and produced by photosynthetic plants, algae and bacteria.  It is estimated that over 10 billion tonnes are generated and subsequently broken down (recycled) each year.

Initially it was thought the pathway would be analogous to the well-known glycolytic pathway and hence was named sulfoglycolysis.  A big surprise was the discovery of a new pathway that amazingly breaks a carbon-sulfur bond.  This led to the discovery of a new family of enzymes that release sulfosugars from sulfolipids, the first step in the breakdown pathway.  The work has many translational possibilities including improvements to human health, more efficient industrial processes and combating some environmental challenges.

This award highlights the importance of mult-disciplinary research and collaboration, whether it is local (Bio21 Institute), precinct wide (WEHI and Doherty) or international.

Malcolm says "This collaboration is a direct consequence of our groups being co-located in Bio21, as it was largely driven by post-doc and PhD students in our lab working closely together and building on our complementary expertise.  it also builds on the access that we have to the different platforms at Bio21".

Spencer added "Bio21 is a wonderful environment to do complex, multidisciplinary science.  I first met Malcolm before the Bio21 Building was even built (!), and our co-location and alignment of interests has been the foundation of our productive, long term collaboration".

Please join me in congratulating the Biosulfur Recyclers and in particular, Spencer and Malcolm and their teams, on this wonderful honour and recognition of their work.


Michael Parker

Director, Bio21 Institute