Hutton bioinformatician Wenbin Guo awarded Massalski research prize

A James Hutton Institute bioinformatician whose research focuses on plant genetics has been awarded the prestigious Peter Massalski Prize for Meritorious Research at the Scottish Society for Crop Research’s 2022 Annual General Meeting.

Dr Wenbin Guo is a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute’s Information and Computational Sciences department who has had several high-impact publications, bioinformatics software releases and contributions to successful funding applications.

SSCR secretary Dr Joanne Russell hands the Massalski Prize to Dr Wenbin Guo
Dr Joanne Russell, SSCR Secretary, hands over the Massalski prize to Dr Wenbin Guo

Dr Guo has made major contributions to the development of easy to use, easy to access tools for gene expression analysis which have made a global impact not just in plant research, but also in mammalian studies including human research.

On winning the Prize, 34-year-old Dr Guo said: “It is a huge honour for me to receive the outstanding Peter Massalski Prize. This accomplishment will give me more responsibilities for the improvement of my research work. It also will be a great motivation to attain more success in the future.”

“I consider myself very lucky to work with a fantastic team in an excellent institute. My utmost respect goes out to all the colleagues who have helped and supported me, particularly Dr Runxuan Zhang, Prof John Brown, and Prof Robbie Waugh.”

Dr Joanne Russell, SSCR secretary, said: “Wenbin already has quite a lot of projects that he is co-investigator on, which is excellent. Wenbin has a great set of outputs from software, publications, and grants where he is taking a leading role and we know that his work is very well received and respected within the community.”

The Peter Massalski Prize is administered by SSCR and awarded through the generosity of Professor and the late Mrs T B Massalski, in memory of their son, Dr Peter R Massalski, who was a member of staff at the former Scottish Crop Research Institute, a forerunner of the James Hutton Institute.

The prize is awarded biennially to a scientist under 36 years old, who is considered to have undertaken the most meritorious research whilst working for or with the James Hutton Institute, from any discipline and anywhere in the organisation. It takes the form of a special certificate accompanied by a monetary award.

The SSCR 2022 AGM featured a talk by Dr Craig Simpson on gene editing techniques for agriculture, which highlighted the importance of education, transparency and dialogue in achieving social acceptance and trust.

Dr Craig Simpson speaking about gene editing technologies at the SSCR AGM
Dr Craig Simpson addresses the SSCR AGM 2022

Dr Simpson said: “Global agriculture is under a lot of pressure, with more mouths to feed. Yields are beginning to plateau out, so we need to develop new crops, and farmers are having to reduce inputs. We also waste a third of our food, the amount of land we have is becoming more limited, we need to adapt to a changing climate, and we must deal with declining biodiversity. Also, war has highlighted the limitations of our food chain, so there is a need for us to increase our food production.”

The talk also focused on the advantages of gene editing. “Gene editing offers benefits such as improved nutrient content, increased carbon sequestration, extended shelf life, improved flavour, disease resistance, and adapting varieties to year-round production,” Dr Simpson added.

Wrapping up the 2022 AGM, SSCR chairperson, Dr Keith Dawson, presented a gift to Dr Bill MacFarlane Smith on account of his long service to SSCR.

Dr Bill Macfarlane Smith (left) receives a gift from SSCR chair Dr Keith Dawson
Dr Bill Macfarlane Smith (left) receives a gift from SSCR chair, Dr Keith Dawson, on account of his long service to SSCR