VBC PhD awards for Max Perutz Labs alumni
Borja Mateos (Konrat Lab) and Anete Romanauska (Köhler Lab) are among this year’s exceptional young scientists awarded the Vienna BioCenter PhD award. To this day, 19 Max Perutz Labs students have received the prize for their PhD work. The prize was initiated in 2005 by former Perutz group leader Renée Schroeder and acknowledges the best PhD theses across the four research institutes at the Vienna BioCenter. Among previous awardees are current Perutz group leaders Martin Leeb and Stefan Ameres, and former principal investigator Claudine Kraft.
Exploring the molecular basis of heredity: ERC grant for Joao Matos
Group leader Joao Matos, who was recently recruited to the Perutz, has been awarded a prestigious ERC Consolidator Grant. The funding, a total of 2 million over 5 years, will help Joao and his team’s efforts to decipher the molecular controls that ensure a balanced exchange of genetic material during meiosis.
“No service!” How vaccinia virus jams immune signaling
Viruses depend on their hosts to copy themselves and spread. Upon infection, a virus will hijack the host machinery to replicate its genome, manufacture its proteins and assemble new viral particles. The host in defence deploys its own weapons against the virus in an attempt to combat the infection. This host defence depends on an intricate signaling chain that activates the host’s immune system. One tactic employed by viruses to enhance their replication and thwart the immune reaction is to interfere with this signaling mechanism. New research from the lab of Tim Skern and their collaborators from the University of Queensland (Australia) now shows how the vaccinia virus protein A46 disrupts immune signaling by jamming the cellular transmission chain. The paper is now online in the journal “Structure”.
Congratulations to Emmanuelle Charpentier on the Nobel Prize for Chemistry
The 2020 Nobel Prize for Chemistry is awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer Doudna for their groundbreaking discoveries on the CRISPR/Cas9 system, a now widely used genome editing tool that has revolutionized biomedicine. Emmanuelle Charpentier was a principal investigator at the Max Perutz Labs at the University of Vienna from 2002 to 2009, where she laid the groundwork for developing the CRISPR/Cas9 technology. The Max Perutz Labs together with the University of Vienna congratulate Prof. Charpentier on this outstanding achievement.
What is the origin of the genetic code?
In a project supported by the Volkswagen foundation, the lab of Bojan Zagrovic and their collaborators Zoya Ignatova (University of Hamburg) and Markus Zweckstetter (MPI Biophysical Chemistry Göttingen) aim at experimentally and computationally testing the mRNA-protein complementarity hypothesis. This novel and still controversial idea could help explain the origin of the universal genetic code, but may also carry major implications for the biology of today. The grant amounts to a total of €1.5 m and is coordinated by Zoya Ignatova.
Investigating Parkinson’s through the lens of autophagy - ASAP grant for Sascha Martens
The Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s Initiative (ASAP) has awarded a grant to Sascha Martens’ group and scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, Monash University and MPI for Biophysics in Frankfurt. The project is coordinated by James Hurley from the University of California Berkeley. The project is endowed with USD 7.000.000 and will reveal the mechanisms of mitophagy and its involvement in Parkinson’s Disease.
Autophagy: the beginning of the end
Autophagy, from the Greek for ‘self-eating’, is an essential process that isolates and recycles cellular components under conditions of stress or when resources are limited. Cargoes such as misfolded proteins or damaged organelles are captured in a double membrane-bound compartment called the autophagosome and targeted for degradation. A fundamental question concerns precisely how these “garbage bags” form in the cell. Scientists led by Sascha Martens from the Max Perutz Labs, a joint venture of the University of Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna, have now reconstructed the first steps in the formation of autophagosomes. They show that tiny vesicles loaded with the protein Atg9 act as the seed from which the autophagosome emerges. The study is published in Science.
Calcium causes stiff joints in ɑ-actinin
The group of Kristina Djinovic-Carugo has revealed the molecular structure of a calcium-regulated form of the protein α-actinin, and has elucidated the mechanism of how calcium binds and regulates it. In α-actinin from the parasite E. histolytica, calcium binding triggers an increase in protein rigidity, which impairs its ability to bundle actin filaments. The study is published in PNAS and could help understand calcium regulation in human forms of α-actinin. The mechanism may also provide guidance for the development of novel therapeutics to treat amoebic dysentery caused by E. histolytica that threatens millions of people in developing countries every year.
Detective work in the cell: Scientists uncover a new RNA-modifying enzyme
Scientists led by Javier Martinez from the Max Perutz Labs, a joint venture of the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna, have identified a unique chemical reaction at the end of RNA molecules for the first time in human cells. This reaction was previously only observed in bacteria and viruses. Tracing its source among thousands of proteins, they discovered that an unexpected culprit, an enzyme called ANGEL2, executes this reaction. ANGEL2 may play a key role in regulating the response to cellular stress, and possibly in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative and metabolic diseases. The study is published in “Science”.
Sascha Martens elected EMBO member: “I’m looking forward to helping support young scientists”
The EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organization) membership honours distinguished scientists who have made outstanding contributions in the field of the life sciences. Members can actively participate in EMBO’s initiatives by serving on the organisation's Council, committees and editorial boards, participating in the evaluation of applications for funding, and by acting as mentors for young scientists.
Three DOC fellowships for Max Perutz Labs students
Konstantina Georgiou, Sara Scinicariello, and Ameya Rakesh Khandekar have been awarded DOC fellowships by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) that will support their PhD projects, which focus on genome organization, protein degradation, and RNA biology respectively.
Cep97: a stabilizing protein roof for centrioles
The proposed function of the centriolar protein Cep97 has to be revised, a new study from the Dammerman lab shows. Rather than just limiting centriole elongation, Cep97 forms a protective roof that ensures that centrioles maintain their correct size once the proper length is reached. The findings are published in “Current Biology” and could help explain how centrioles maintain their size and stability through multiple cell divisions, often throughout the entire lifetime of an organism.