On Wednesday, 22 June 2016, the University Council nominated Richard Neher to become the new Associate Professor of Computational Modeling of Biological Processes at the Biozentrum. Since 2010, Prof. Richard Neher has headed a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany, in the field of evolutionary dynamics and biophysics. He was born in 1979 in Göttingen and studied physics at the Universities of Göttingen and Munich, where he graduated with his doctorate in 2007. After three years of postdoctoral research at the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, he returned to Germany.
Neher investigates the evolution of viruses and bacteria. “With our work, we bridge the gap between basic research and its application,” says Neher. “We are trying to uncover the general laws of evolution and verify our findings using data on the emergence and spread of new influenza viruses and HIV.” Viruses can change very rapidly and constantly produce new variants which escape the recognition by the immune system. This is the reason, for instance, why each year new flu variants emerge, usually originating in the Far East and spreading to Europe, resulting in the need to update influenza vaccines almost every year. Conventionally, the dominant influenza virus is determined based only on epidemiological data and laboratory testing. With the software, developed by Neher and his team, the evolution of influenza viruses can be calculated and predictions can be made about which viruses will prevail in the following flu season. Furthermore, Neher investigates how other viruses, such as the immunodeficiency virus HIV, change in response to the immune system and what strategies they develop to evade the body's defenses.
For his pioneering work and significant research contributions, Neher has received numerous awards. He was a Scholar of the Elite Network of Bavaria and received the Harvey L. Karp Discovery Award in 2009. In 2011, he was awarded a "Starting Grant" of the European Research Council (ERC), and, in 2016, with the Open Science Prize of the NIH and the Wellcome Trust. Neher will take up his new position as an associate professor at the Biozentrum in February, 2017.