Molecular biologist receives Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award

The statement accompanying the award describes the foundation’s motivation for giving the award to Stougaard in the following terms:

“We have selected you to receive this award in recognition of, and as a source of inspiration for, your excellent research on plant biology, including the root nodules that are the result of symbiosis between legumes and nitrogen-fixing bacteria.”

The foundation also highlights the extremely high degree of originality that characterises Stougaard’s research.

The Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award in Science and Technology cannot be applied for. VILLUM FONDEN's board selects the recipient of the annual award on the recommendation of a committee of experts which solicits a statement on each candidate from international experts in the field of research in question.

“It is a great honour to receive the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award for my contribution to plant biology, and I am pleased and proud that VILLUM FONDEN committee and board have chosen to recognise my research efforts.”

Photo: Jakob Boserup.

Jens Stougaard is one of the world’s leading researchers in his field. According to an analysis from ScienceWatch, Stougaard was among the one per cent most cited researchers in the world in the field of ‘plant and animal science’ in 2014.

Leading researcher

Since 2007, Jens Stougaard has headed the CARB basic research centre, which has currently 40 affiliated researchers, over half of whom are international. The research group’s work is currently based on its previous discovery of how legumes establish symbiosis with bacteria in the surrounding soil. These bacteria are able to turn atmospheric nitrogen into nitrogen compounds that plants can use. This means that legumes are able to create their own fertiliser through their symbiosis with these bacteria.

Research into this symbiosis may ultimately enable us to reduce the amount of chemical fertiliser we use in agriculture, which would contribute to the development of a more sustainable system of food production – a necessity if we are to feed a growing world population.

In collaboration with colleagues in similar research groups in other countries, the Aarhus-based research group is currently investigating how to transfer this symbiosis to cereal crops such as maize. The group selected maize because it is the main food source for sub-Saharan populations, where access to fertiliser is limited, both by economic and logistic factors.

The ENSA maize project has received approximately USD 10 million in support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Stougaard has also received EU funding for his research through a European Research Council Advanced Grant of approximately DKK 17 million.

“I strongly want to contribute to making the ENSA project a success. It was one of the first biotechnology ideas to make the front page of The New York Times when the techniques to identify and clone genes were developed way back when I was a student. And it could be great fun to be part of realising it. Whether we’ll succeed while I’m still active – that I don’t know. But it’s fun to be part of seeing how far we can get, and what we can achieve. And then our research will come into play, and I’d really like to see that happen at some level or another,” explains Stougaard.

About Jens Stougaard

Since 2007: Head of the Centre for Carbohydrate Recognition and Signalling (CARB)

Since 2006: Professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University.

Jens Stougaard has been affiliated with Aarhus University throughout his research career with the exception of periods abroad at the following institutions:

  • 1990: John Innes Center for Plant Science Research, the Sainsbury Laboratory, United Kingdom
  • 1984:  OECD Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research, Cologne, Germany

Stougaard earned his PhD from the University of Sussex in England after receiving his MSc in agriculture from the former Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen.

Jens Stougaard is 62 years old.

Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award in Science and Technology


This year, VILLUM FONDEN has decided to honour two researchers to mark the 75th anniversary of VKR Group. Normally, only one award is presented each year.

On 22 January 2016, the Villum Kann Rasmussen Annual Award will be presented both to Professor Lone Gram of the Technical University of Denmark and to Professor Jens Stougaard of Aarhus University.

Thirty-three researchers have received the award since it was created.

VILLUM FONDEN is a non-profit, private charitable foundation that supports technology and natural science research as well as environmental, social and cultural project both in Denmark and internationally.

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