AwardPublished on 15.06.2020

UNIFR student Vivian Link receives the Vigener Prize for the best PhD thesis

The Vigener Prize, instituted in 1908 after a donation from Joseph Vigener, honours doctoral work standing out by their excellence. We are very proud to announce that one of our students from the Department of Biology, Vivian Link, has won the Vigener Prize for the best PhD thesis in theoretical sciences. Dr Vivian Link, under the direction of Prof. Daniel Wegmann, wrote her PhD thesis on “Statistical inference of genetic diversity: computational tools for low-depth and ancient sequencing data“.

Ancient DNA and a data correction program

During her PhD, Vivian was interested in gaining information from noisy data, and most of her projects dealt with ancient, prehistoric DNA. She explains that “the DNA fragments extracted from ancient bones are very damaged, and it is difficult to reconstruct the original DNA sequence”. Therefore, Vivian developed a program that corrects for errors that degradation introduced in the ancient DNA, called “ATLAS” (Analysis Tools for Low-depth and Ancient Sequences). “I also applied this program to ancient human DNA in projects where we wanted to learn more about human history. For example, in one of our projects we were interested in how the farming lifestyle replaced the hunter-gatherer lifestyle in Europe”. She and her group compared the DNA of hunter-gatherers and early farmers from Europe, the Aegean Sea and Iran (anciently the eastern fertile crescent), which is where farming was invented. Vivian and her group found out that the farming lifestyle predominantly spread to Europe because Aegean farmers migrated there and brought the lifestyle with them. “However, the Aegean farmers were genetically distinct from the fertile crescent farmers, suggesting that the farming lifestyle was also spread through people learning from each other.”

Involvement at the University and acknowledgments

In addition to being an excellent scientist, Vivian Link is also actively involved in the life at the department by being a speaker for the FGLS, Fribourg Graduate school of Life Sciences. She also wants to thank everyone who collaborated with her throughout her academic career: “I would like to thank the faculty for awarding me the Vigener prize. Much of the work was done in collaboration with cool people from around the world and I would like to pass the honor on to them as well. I truly enjoyed my PhD time in the Wegmann group, and I would like to thank them, especially Daniel, and my friends and colleagues in the Biology Department for making these past years an amazing experience.” We congratulate her and wish her all the success in her upcoming work and research.

The Vigener Prize, endowed with an amount of CHF 2’000.-, will be awarded at the Dies Academicus 2020, November 14th 2020 at the Aula Magna of UniFr.