Congratulations to Dr. Giel van Dooren who was awarded the 2021 Bancroft-Mackerras Medal for Excellence from the Australian Society for Parasitology.
Giel van Dooren is a Senior Lecturer at the Research School of Biology, Australian National University, Australia. He is a parasitologist through and through. After graduating from the University of Melbourne with Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Science, he joined the laboratory of Geoff McFadden as an Honours student. He continued as a PhD student in the McFadden lab working on the biology of the mitochondrion of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. Giel then moved to the University of Georgia to work as a post-doc with Boris Striepen. After spending four successful years in the US, he returned to the University of Melbourne in 2009 as a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) CJ Martin Research Fellow. In 2012, he moved to the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University (ANU) where he holds a tenured position.
Giel’s research interests revolve around the cell biology of apicomplexan parasites and is highlighted by two overarching themes: the function and evolution of parasite organelles (in particular apicoplast and mitochondria) and transporter molecules. Giel’s research revealed how proteins are being imported into the apicoplast, having identified the necessary leader sequence and processing enzyme in Plasmodium falciparum. He also unravelled how the apicoplast divides (and that this process differs from plastids in other organisms). Giel also characterised a solute transporter in the apicoplast of Toxoplasma gondii that is crucial for fatty acid and isoprenoid biosynthesis and hence essential for the survival of this important parasite. In recent years his group has identified a novel protein family of cationic transporters in Toxoplasma and Plasmodium and he has characterised several novel amino acid transporters. By characterising the proteome of the Toxoplasma gondii mitochondrion, Giel and his team demonstrated that this organelle contains a whole set of novel proteins that are different from host proteins and hence are potentially suitable drug targets. Currently his team is investigating the unique features of the apicomplexan electron transport chain and ways to selectively disrupt it. These contributions not only provide fundamental insights into the basic biology of apicomplexan parasites, but also – due to their uniqueness – provide the basis of rational drug design to combat the devastating diseases caused by this group of parasites.
Having made all these significant contributions, it is no surprise that Giel has an outstanding bibliometric record. He has published 47 papers in high impact journals, which have been cited over 4,800-times and achieved an h-index of 29. In the last five years alone, he published not only in highly regarded journals in the field of parasitology but also in leading generalist journals such as PLoS Pathogens (2x), e-life (2x), Journal of Biological Chemistry (3x), Blood, Nucleic Acid Research and Nature Communications. In his career Giel has also published in Current Biology (2x), Nature and Science. The interest of these journals in his work are testimony to his scientific intellect: his publications are comprehensive providing seminal contributions to the field. He is a popular invited speaker both at conferences and at research institutions across the world. Giel has attracted research funding in excess of $3.3 million so far and has been recognised by the award of prestigious fellowships like the NHMRC CJ Martin Research Fellowship and the Australian Research Council QEII fellowship. He currently holds an ARC Discovery Grant and an NHMRC Ideas Project Grant as Primary Investigator.
Giel’s extraordinary collegiality and passion for parasitology is reflected in his service contributions, including having served as the ACT representative on the ASP council and on several organising committees for conferences. Above all, Giel is an enthusiastic, popular and outstanding teacher and mentor – promoting parasitology within ANU, through participation at international post-graduate courses and at outreach events to the general public. Giel has supervised and mentored 16 graduate students and nine Honours students and provided dozens of undergraduate students with research experiences in his laboratory. He aims to provide undergraduate students with authentic research experiences and regularly incorporates genuine research questions in his courses. His sustained and substantial contributions to both the ASP’s “Concept in Parasitology” course as well as the Wood Hole “Biology of Parasitism” course created an ongoing legacy with the participants.
Given the significance of Giel’s extraordinary research findings and his tireless contributions to the education of future parasitologists, Giel van Dooren is in our opinion an extremely worthy candidate for the Australian Society for Parasitology’s Bancroft-Mackerras Medal for Excellence.