KNAW Beijerinck Premium awarded to Pascal Miesen for insights into virus spread by mosquitoes
This year, the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) awards the Beijerinck Premium to Pascal Miesen. Miesen receives the prize for his research on the mechanisms determining how efficiently viruses, such as the dengue and Zika viruses, are transmitted from mosquitoes to humans. The jury particularly praises his innovative insights into how genetic information in mosquitoes changes in response to infections. Miesen’s research is a crucial building block in understanding viral spread and makes a significant contribution to addressing this major societal issue.
Miesen earned his PhD at Radboud University and later worked at the Pasteur Institute, where he studied specific RNA molecules in mosquitoes and their role in defense against viruses. Alongside his colleagues, Miesen demonstrated that mosquitoes can store information about previous virus infections in their DNA and pass it on to their offspring. This stored information is then used to create so-called Piwi-interacting RNAs (piRNAs), which can suppress virus replication. This discovery unveils a new form of immunological memory.
After returning to Radboudumc, Miesen played a leading role in establishing a mosquito facility where researchers can safely study virus infections in mosquitoes. His research team employs advanced genetic techniques to further investigate interactions between mosquitoes and viruses. Recently, they discovered that processes such as glucose metabolism and rapid changes in mosquito gene expression play a crucial role in defense against viruses.
Mosquito Research for a Broad Audience
Additionally, Miesen actively engages in informing non-scientific audiences about his work through public programs and study projects with high school students. As part of the national One Health PACT research project, Technasium students, for example, visited to experience what it means to conduct research with real mosquitoes. This provided them with a practical understanding of the mosquito lifecycle and how this knowledge can contribute to combating mosquito-borne diseases. Simultaneously, the students gained insight into the scientific process and the challenges it entails.
Combating Virus Spread by Mosquitoes
Miesen is delighted with the Beijerinck Premium: “Nowadays, we are increasingly able to use advanced techniques to investigate what happens in the mosquito before a pathogen can be transmitted to a human. Nevertheless, molecular research on mosquitoes still lags considerably behind other fields of research. I am very pleased with the opportunities the Beijerinck Prize offers to apply the latest genomic techniques in our research. With the knowledge thus acquired, we can develop new ways to combat virus spread by mosquitoes in the future.”
The KNAW Beijerinck Premium will be awarded on March 8, 2024, during the Dutch Annual Virology Symposium (DAVS) at Pakhuis de Zwijger, Amsterdam. The prize amounts to 25,000 euros, to be spent by the winner on virus-oriented research.