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June 08, 2012

Infection Biologist Prof. Guy Cornelis Says Goodbye

How do bacteria protect themselves from being destroyed by the immune system? Over decades, this has been the central question for the research undertaken by Professor Guy Cornelis from the Biozentrum of the University of Basel. In his research career, he has been able to find many answers. The Biozentrum held a scientific symposium in recognition of his outstanding work and bid this remarkable scientist farewell.

Prof. Guy R. Cornelis

The Biozentrum of the University of Basel held a ceremonial farewell symposium in the honor of Prof Guy Cornelis on June 8, 2012. Internationally renowned scientists and scientific colleagues, such as Prof. Anthony Pugsley (Institute Pasteur Paris), Prof. David Holden (Imperial College London) and Prof. Andreas Engel (Case Western Reserve University) as well as some of his Alumni such as Dr. Petr Broz (Stanford University), came to Basel in recognition of Cornelis’ remarkable scientific accomplishments. Guy Cornelis, a Belgian, has been Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the Biozentrum since 2001 and has dedicated his research life to the elucidation of complex mechanisms of action in bacterial infectious diseases. Already, more than two decades ago, Cornelis began investigating how pathogens can successfully sabotage the immune defense of their host organism.

Guy Cornelis gained international recognition with the discovery of the so-called bacterial “type III secretion system”. Pathogens, such as bacteria which cause gastroenteritis and the Black Death plague have developed this infection apparatus during the course of evolution, with which they can switch off the immune cells of the host organism and secure their own survival. It is made up of a complex nano-syringe which the pathogen uses to inject a cocktail of cell toxins into the immune cells, thus interfering with the communication within the cells. In researching the manifold interactions between the host and pathogen, Cornelis, with his systems biological approach, took on a pioneering role. His discoveries do not only contribute to the fundamental understanding of infectious diseases but also provide new approaches for combating pathogens.

Guy Cornelis’ lifework in science has been honored by many distinctions and over 170 publications in high ranking journals such as Nature and Science. Cornelis originally studied pharmacy at the University of Louvain in Belgium. In 1974, at the Dunn School of Pathology, he completed his PhD thesis on β-lactamases as a stipend awardee from the “Belgian National Science Foundation”. After working in research internationally, Guy Cornelis returned to the University of Louvain and investigated the pathogenesis of Yersinia enterocolitica, an agent of gastroenteritis but also a close relative of Yersinia pestis and a safe model to study the pathogenesis of Y. pestis. In 2001, he followed a calling to the University of Basel, where he took on the duties of Professor in the area of Infection Biology at the Biozentrum and headed this focal area of research from 2004 to 2011.

Prof. Guy Cornelis is one of the most cited scientists worldwide and member of various advisory boards and scientific associations including the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) and the American Academy for Microbiology. In the past year, the infection biologist was awarded the coveted “ERC Advanced Investigator Grant” from the European Research Council, supporting his research into bacterial infectious diseases over the next five years. And so, it is obvious that Guy Cornelis, after his farewell, will not rest in retirement. With his family, this high level scientist will return to his homeland and continue his research activities at the “Facultés universitaires Notre-Dame de la Paix” (FUNDP), University of Namur, in Belgium.

Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler