Professor Wilfred van der Donk has been awarded The Harrison Howe Award for 2020, a prestigious honor that recognizes an outstanding chemist in an acknowledgement of the idea that chemistry and the pursuit of chemical knowledge contribute to the betterment of society.
Van der Donk, the Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry, focuses his research on the discovery and design of new antibiotics and natural products, combining synthetic organic and protein chemistry to address problems at the interface of chemistry and biology, including multi-drug resistant bacterial strains. He is also the Director of Graduate Studies in chemistry, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, a faculty member of the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology and an affiliate of biochemistry.
In announcing the award, the Rochester American Chemical Society Section noted that Professor van der Donk has created a broad research program at the intersection of chemistry and biology and combines techniques from synthetic organic chemistry, molecular biology and biochemistry.
"He is a pioneer in the field of the biosynthesis and mechanistic enzymology of lanthipeptides, which are naturally occurring cyclic peptides with antimicrobial activity. More broadly, his laboratory has discovered ribosomally synthesized and post-translationally modified peptide (RiPP) natural products and new methods in genome mining to identify natural products with important biochemical functions directly from genomic sequences. His work in the field of chemical biology is an excellent example of how chemistry can contribute to society, a founding principle of the Harrison Howe Award," according to the announcement.
The award was inaugurated in 1946 to honor Harrison Howe, one of the founders of the Rochester ACS Section. Howe was the founding editor of Chemical and Engineering News and a fervent champion of industrial research and development. It was his belief that chemistry and the pursuit of chemical knowledge contribute to the betterment of society. The Harrison Howe Award is given to acknowledge and support this idea through recognition of an outstanding chemist.
Professor van der Donk received his BS from Leiden University, the Netherlands, in 1989 and his PhD from Rice University in 1994. He went on to do postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and joined the faculty at Illinois in 1997. His research interests are in organic chemistry and chemical biology.