Piet Borst received the Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics 1992 in recognition of his extraordinary record of scientific achievement in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology.
What distinguishes Borst is his catholicity: he has made significant contributions to scientific research in several different fields. In the early stages of his career, Borst became interested in the metabolism of mitochondria. The malate-aspartate cycle, or ‘Borst cycle’, owes its name to the laureate, who discovered it is the principal route for the oxidation of extra-mitochondrial NADH in animal tissue. His studies on the biogenesis of mitochondria led to the discovery and characterisation of circular mitochondrial DNA in animal cells and yeast, and to important insights into the way this DNA is replicated. He was instrumental in mapping the genes in and the transcription of yeast mitochondrial DNA, besides its physical and genetic characteristics. One of the most widely used methods in molecular biology agarose gel electrophoresis of DNA – grew out of this research. More recently Professor Borst has devoted himself to the study of trypanosomes. These unicellular parasites cause sleeping sickness, which is often fatal. His work on the antigenic variation of trypanosomes led to several important findings, including discontinuous RNA synthesis and trans-splicing (the first example of pre-RNA splicing in protozoa), and the growth and contraction of trypanosome telomeres. He also discovered unique specialised organelles, the glycosomes. At the Netherlands Cancer Institute Borst began working on genes involved in the multidrug resistance of cancer cells and on the structure of amplified DNA. The laureate is not only an outstanding scientist, but also an excellent administrator, a gifted speaker, and both an inspired and inspiring teacher.
Piet Borst was born in Amsterdam in 1934. He studied medicine at the University of Amsterdam, where he received a PhD in biochemistry in 1961 and the MD degree in 1963, before spending two years as a research fellow at New York University. In 1965 he was made associate and in 1969 full professor of physiological chemistry at the University of Amsterdam, where he subsequently held the chair of biochemistry and molecular biology since 1974. In 1983 he was appointed research director of the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, while retaining a part-time university professorship of clinical biochemistry. Professor Borst is a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences and of the Academia Europaea, a foreign member of the Royal Society, London, a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, and a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, USA. He has received various honours and prizes for his scientific work. He is a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, or EMBO; he sat on the EMBO’s council from 1978 to 1984 and chaired its Scientific Advisory Committee from 1987 to 1991. He served and serves on the Scientific Advisory Committees of several European research institutes and he has chaired the juries of the Jeantet Prize (Europe) and of the Sloan General Motors Prize (USA). Since 1983, professor Borst writes a column for the scientific supplement of the Dutch paper NRC-Handelsblad.