Jan-Hendrik Hofmeyr, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Stellenbosch, received the Fellowship for his work in Systems Biology. He was the second recipient of the Award and the first from the University of Stellenbosch.
He comments on his work “A systems biologist studies whole organisms from an integrative and systemic perspective. My work in systems biology has been to develop the glue to put a living thing back together. This needs a theoretical or mathematical framework through which to interpret and understand the functional organisation peculiar to living things, something shared by all living things despite their amazing diversity. It is necessary to understand that the emergent behaviour of complex systems depends not only on the properties of the components, but also the way they are connected and the causal relationships that drive the whole system. What makes a living organism possible lies in the way its components are organised into a system with circular causality. I have been able to unravel the biochemistry underlying this organisation and the implications of his work lie within the entire framework of Complexity Theory with potential application to social, economic and ecological systems.”
Like Glasser, he is adamant that South Africa is on par with the world in terms of scientific study and research but considers it strangely misunderstood, particularly at a time when the popularisation of science in the rest of the world is at its height. “This Award is unique and a very positive example for other philanthropic organisations in South Africa. It gave me, with my family, one year of freedom from financial concerns and the pressures of teaching, and so the time to ponder on these questions. It is undoubtedly the most prestigious Award in the country, with its focus on ideas it is often referred to as South Africa’s Nobel Prize.”
Hofmeyr obtained his PhD at the University of Stellenbosch in 1986. He is a co-founder of the Triple-J Group for Molecular Cell Physiology and has made numerous fundamental contributions to the development of metabolic control analysis and computational cell biology. He holds a NRF A rating and is a member of the Academy of Science of South Africa and a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa. In 1999 he received the University of Stellenbosch Vice-Chancellor’s Award for outstanding research and the Beckman Gold Medal of the South African Biochemical Society in 2003. Together with Professor Paul Cilliers of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch, Professor Hofmeyr was instrumental in establishing the Centre for Studies in Complexity in 2009.