Meet Our I2P Interns

The Gregor Mendel Institute (GMI) offers a distinguished international internship program where scientific curiosity meets practical research in plant biology.


The Gregor Mendel Institute's International Internship Program (I2P) is a launchpad for research interns where scientific curiosity meets practical research in plant biology. This first series of intern interviews highlights the diverse and engaging world of basic plant science at GMI, encompassing studies on stress response mechanisms in algae, genetic regulation in plant biology, and the evolutionary adaptations in cellular transport processes. Here, interns immerse themselves in hands-on research, mastering techniques such as confocal microscopy and genotyping, while embracing the complexities of molecular analysis. Beyond skill acquisition, mentors foster a warm, collaborative community, essential for nurturing budding scientists as they explore fundamental biological questions and carve their unique paths in the scientific landscape. More information about the program, including applications, can be found here.

Jiaying Liu

China, Berger lab, mentor Zach Harvey

Jiaying studies histones, which are proteins wrapped by DNA strands. They have important roles in regulating gene expression. Her project focuses on the histone variant H2A.Z, whose high degree of conservation among eukaryotes suggests essential but largely unknown functions. Currently, she is studying the divergence of H2A.Z from the canonical H2A.

How has this internship helped you with your scientific development, and where has it led you (so far)?

As an undergraduate student, it is such a wonderful opportunity to intern long-term at a world-class institute. So far, I have learned a lot about managing my day-to-day work independently. Participating in numerous seminars have also been a great opportunity for me to learn to design meaningful and robust experiments. 

Image Caption: I use yeast as a system to investigate the defining properties of two proteins, H2A.Z and canonical H2A.

Marco Bellin

Italy, Ramundo lab, mentor Silvia

Marco's research focuses on the chloroplast unfolded protein response (cpUPR), a kind of "emergency response" that occurs when algal cells face excessive protein damage in their chloroplasts. During the cpUPR, the "SOS signal" must be transduced through different cellular compartments to reach the nucleus, where it triggers a gene expression program that helps to restore chloroplast homeostasis. Currently, he is analyzing potential mutants related to the cpUPR in the single-celled green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. These mutants were discovered through two methods: a forward genetic screen and a suppressor screen. He is excited about identifying the driver mutation in these mutants, as this information could deepen our understanding of how cells maintain the function of chloroplasts, a crucial organelle in plant cells.

How has this internship helped you with your scientific development, and where has it led you (so far)?

This internship has helped me master essential techniques in molecular biology, develop my critical thinking, and improve my communication skills. It has also given me ample opportunities to network with other scientists and be exposed to a wide range of research topics through seminars and symposia. I am definitely grateful to be a part of this vibrant research center, and I feel much more confident about pursuing a scientific career now than when I arrived. So, I would strongly encourage anyone who is passionate about basic science and open to learning from their mistakes to reach out and apply.

Image caption: 1536-density agar plates with Chlamydomonas reinhardtii colonies. Genetic screens can produce thousands of different mutants, constituting so-called libraries. We keep our mutants tightly packed and neatly arrayed in agar plates ready to be screened and processed.

Héloïse Duvergé

France, Dagdas lab, mentor Juan Carlos De La Concepcion

Héloïse studies a cell trafficking process called exocytosis, which is highly conserved in eukaryotes and is mediated by a protein complex named exocyst. She focuses on a protein called Exo70 that is a subunit of this complex and is highly expanded in plants, suggesting that it may have evolved to carry out different functions.

How has this internship helped you in your scientific development (so far)?

This experience helped a lot for my scientific development because it allowed me not just to understand what I wanted to do but also to start doing it. My goal when I enrolled in this program was to figure out if I wanted to do a master's and Ph.D. or work as a technician or research assistant. I realized that I like to participate in scientific projects as a support to get the results needed to answer biological questions.  

Lena Plank

Austria, Nordborg lab, mentor Yoav Voichek

Lena's research focuses on the expression of transposable elements, DNA sequences that can move or "transpose" themselves to new positions within the genome. She is studying transposon expression in Arabidopsis lyrata, a different species within the genus Arabidopsis. This study could provide clues to the transposon expression patterns in the pollen grains of the common ancestor of Arabidopsis thaliana and A. lyrata, which diverged about 4 million years ago. It's important to note that this is a relatively short time span in the context of plant evolution.

How has this internship helped you with your scientific development, and where has it led you (so far)?

What I really like about my internship - this is the first time I have worked in a lab outside of a university course - is that it is really up to me how independently I want to work. I feel like I'm trusted, I get to have my own project, and I have responsibilities within the lab, but at the same time, it's a learning experience for me. Because one of the hard truths that almost all young researchers have to face at some point is that things do not always work out the way you planned. But that is okay, and you can learn a lot even from a failed experiment.

Image caption: There are three cells within a pollen grain: two sperm cells (the smaller, brighter dots) and one vegetative cell (the more prominent, fuzzy dot).

Yoonwoo Kim

South Korea, Dagdas lab, mentor Juan Carlos De La Concepcion

Yoonwoo studies the evolution of protein complexes, using Marchantia polymorpha as a genetic model system. She generates Marchantia lines that express key components of the vesicle trafficking pathways in Marchantia and performs confocal microscopy to visualize them in different Marchantia cells. 

How has this internship helped you with your scientific development, and where has it led you (so far)?

Through this internship, I became a more proactive person than I was before. It taught me to set up my own experiments and to discuss the experimental issues I have with other people, eventually solving them. I don't need to mention all the essential experiments I learned here, which will serve as a firm foundation for my future scientific career. 

Image caption: Localization of a key vesicle trafficking protein at the cell plate in Marchantia polymorpha.