Professor Edward Holmes named as NSW Scientist of the Year

One of the world’s top authorities on viruses has been busy this year studying the emergence of SARS-CoV-2. His work has been recognised with the state’s top honour for scientists.

Professor Edward Holmes.
Professor Edward Holmes FRS FAA.

Professor Edward Holmes from the University of Sydney has been named as 2020 New South Wales Scientist of the Year in recognition of his research into emerging viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 in humans.

As a global authority on viruses, Professor Holmes has been at the forefront of research into the novel coronavirus that emerged late last year in Wuhan, China. In January this year, he was the first person to publicly release the genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2, enabling the rapid development of diagnostic tests.

The award also recognises his work that has led to fundamental insights into the origin and spread of numerous viruses, including hepatitis C, HIV, influenza, West Nile, dengue, Zika and Ebola.

The NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said: “In a year of unparalleled challenges, our state has placed its trust in science. The NSW Government will continue to support our finest scientists, engineers and educators, not only to manage the issues we face, but also to ensure that their innovation and expertise is integral to building a stronger, smarter, more agile economy post-COVID-19.”

Professor Holmes said: “It’s a tremendous honour to receive this award, which is built on the hard work of my team and collaborators over many years.

“My work has consistently warned us of the potential of virus pandemics. I’m so thankful and proud to be living in a state and country in which the science has been listened to and used to help build such an effective response to COVID-19.”

Professor Holmes work identifying the genome of the virus was followed with fundamental research into the animal origins of SARS-CoV-2, helping to demonstrate the presence of related viruses in bats and pangolins. This showed that coronaviruses have an ability to jump species boundaries and emerge in new hosts.

University of Sydney Vice-Chancellor and Principal Dr Michael Spence said: “This is such a well-deserved recognition of a truly wonderful scientist.

“I feel confident in how our global community is handling the COVID-19 pandemic knowing that scientists like Professor Edward Holmes are working to deepen our understanding of how coronaviruses evolve and jump between species. This will not only assist in our fight to control this disease it will help stop the next outbreaks from happening.”

Professor Holmes is an eminent evolutionary virologist working in the Marie Bashir Institute for Infectious Diseases & Biosecurity and the Charles Perkins Centre. He holds a joint position with the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the School of Medical Sciences.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society (UK), a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science and an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow.

NSW Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte said: “Our Scientist of the Year, Professor Edward Holmes, is a global authority in virology and the significance of his work in the early identification of the devastating potential of the coronavirus cannot be overstated.”

The NSW Premier’s Prizes for Science & Engineering is an annual event held by the NSW government to celebrate the achievements of the state’s finest scientists, engineers and educators. It is held at Government House in the presence of its patron Her Excellency, the Honourable Margaret Beazley AO QC, Governor of NSW.