Imperial College London

Germany’s Humboldt award granted to Pietro Spanu

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Professor Pietro Spanu teaching in his lab

Fungi researcher Professor Pietro Spanu has received a Humboldt Research Award, one of Europe's most prestigious.

The award is granted in recognition of a researcher's entire achievements to date, have had a significant impact on their discipline and who are expected to continue producing cutting-edge achievements in the future.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards annually.

Award winners are invited to spend a period of up to one year cooperating on a long-term research project with specialist colleagues at a research institution in Germany.

Scientific ambassador

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “As a Humboldtian, I know how beneficial these awards are. Pietro is a deserving recipient. He is a great researcher and academic colleague, making an international impact with his important research into the molecular biology and genomics of fungi. As Imperial’s links with Germany grow, Pietro is the ideal scientific ambassador.”

Pietro Spanu

Pietro Spanu, Professor of Molecular Plant Pathology at Imperial, said: “The Alexander von Humboldt Research Award is an exceptional honour which recognises the work I have done over the years in the field of molecular biology and genomics of plant pathogenic fungi. Apart from the unusual pleasure of receiving this credit, it allows me to pursue for a whole year some blue-sky research unencumbered by the usual constraints on time and resources that limit my normal professional activities. This, coupled with a Sabbatical Leave for Academic Refreshment from College, offers me a unique opportunity to explore new and exciting avenues of investigation.”

RWTH Aachen

Mysteries of fungi

He explained his collaboration at RWTH-Aachen in the laboratory of Professor Ralph Panstruga will help “extend a network of contacts across Germany based on my interest in RNA-mediate communication between organisms.

“The main aim of my year here, is to learn and develop methodologies for studying Extracellular Vesicles (EV). The whole area of EV research is a new and exciting venture which promises to answer some hitherto puzzling riddles in how cells from very different organisms exchange signals that are fundamental in development, disease and immunity. My hope is that the months spent here, ‘back at the bench’, will enable me to lay the foundation for exciting work in my lab and elsewhere.”

Pietro Spanu teaching

Professors Spanu and Panstruga have collaborated together for more than a decade. Professor Spanu added: “Ralph and I share a deep passion for the mysteries of how fungi and plants interact, and how each evolves to take advantage or defend themselves from the other. Together, over the years, we have developed genomic, proteomic and cell biology platforms for investigating these challenges. I expect that this year of working together shoulder to shoulder will open new doors into this field. The Alexander von Humboldt award will also deepen links with others in Germany and elsewhere, mostly in the US, with whom we are exploring the function of EVs in plant disease and immunity.”

Among other Imperial academics with Humboldt Foundation connections is Dr James Wilton-Ely, Reader in Inorganic Chemistry, President of the UK Alexander von Humboldt Association

Photos of Pietro Spanu by Thomas Angus. 

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