Prof. Dr. John van der Oost has been active in the field of microbiology for over 30 years. As the first researcher to demonstrate how CRISPR-Cas specifically targets DNA, he is now internationally recognized as leading expert on genome editing through CRISPR-Cas systems. Based on his groundbreaking work in this area he was awarded the Spinoza Prize in 2018. At the Symposium, Van der Oost will tell us more about different genome editing types and how they can contribute to synthetic biology projects.
Van der Oost started his career in biology at the Free University in Amsterdam, where he studied microbiology and biochemistry. He obtained his PhD here as well with his research on hydrogen production by cyanobacteria. After conducting some research abroad in the following years, he returned to Amsterdam as a fellow of the Netherlands Royal Academy of Sciences (KNAW). From this position he moved on to become leader of the Bacterial Genetics group in the Laboratory of Microbiology at Wageningen University.
Before focusing on prokaryotic antiviral defence systems, for which he is now best known, Van der Oost worked on metabolic pathways in archaea, resulting in the discovery of many novel enzymes and regulators. In recognition of his influential work he was appointed Professor in 2005. In that period he started working on prokaryotic antiviral defence systems, such as CRISPR-Cas and Argonaute. He and his co-workers were the first to demonstrate how the CRISPR-Cas system uses short RNA guides to specifically target DNA. Combined with their success in transplanting relevant components of the system to another bacterial host, as well as their discovery that CRISPR could be used for the specific targeting of any DNA sequence, this work led to the international recognition of the Van der Oost group as pioneers of programmable gene editing. He has recently been elected as a member of the KNAW. The obtained insights into CRISPR-Cas systems are being used by many research groups. It is now applied in a diversity of fields, from fundamental research to biotechnology and the development of revolutionary treatments for human genetic diseases.