PhD students at the Vienna BioCenter form a tight-knit community and organize the Vienna BioCenter PhD Symposium every year, which gathers molecular life scientists from across the globe to share the latest developments in the field. During this year's event, students were awarded for exceptional research in these life science fields: molecular machines and chromatin biology to transcription, neuroscience, and developmental biology.
The best PhD theses from the program defended that year are recognized with the Vienna BioCenter PhD Awards. Five students received the award this year, with two from IMBA.
Recipient of a PhD Prize by Young Life Scientists Austria and now a Vienna BioCenter PhD Award, Maximilian Schneider found collaboration with like-minded people to be the most joyful part of his doctoral journey at IMBA. He is now in the exploratory department for cancer signaling at Boehringer-Ingelheim Regional Center Vienna, but Maximilian’s first touch point with the interface of biochemistry and cell biology happened at the Vienna BioCenter Summer School. The mechanistic and hypothesis-driven study of mitosis-related problems in the Gerlich lab made him come back and apply for a position.
For his doctoral research, Maximilian uncovered new information about mitotic processes that allow the genome to be packed into chromosomes that can be faithfully moved during cell division. Chromosomes are subject to physical forces to ensure the integrity of genomic information passed onto progeny, and Maximilian determined the molecular mechanisms that confer special material properties to chromosomes that enable them to resist perforation. His findings are published in Nature.
Jiri Wald, from the lab of Thomas Marlovits, formerly at the IMP and IMBA, worked to reveal the architecture, functional cycle, and the mechanism of a molecular motor that interacts with DNA. In his thesis, he showed how the RuvAB branch migration complex, a grouping of proteins, converts chemical energy into mechanical work to allow the recombination and repair of DNA. These fundamental discoveries were shared with the scientific community in the journal Nature this August. Jiri is now a postdoc at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.
Since 2021, the Out of the Box Award has recognized students who address complex problems using creative, non-standard approaches. Stephanie Eder and Daniel Krogull won this year’s award for their work with nematodes. The premise for their experiment was simple. the nematode-trapping fungus (A. oligospora) will trap the worms. While some worms will be trapped, others will manage to escape. They hypothesize that this escaping behaviour is genetically encoded.
With their setup, they can find the genes important for the evolution of behaviour by picking and propagating the escaper worms for many generations. To genetically dissect this behaviour, the escaper worms will be sequenced.
Daniel earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from University of Vienna and followed that with a master’s degree in developmental biology and evolutionary genetics. He was immediately hooked by Alejandro Burga’s lab, which studies selfish genes and their contribution to evolution. They focus on one class of selfish genes in eukaryotes, called toxin-antidote (TA) elements, which not only enhance their transmission at the expense of the rest of the genome, but do so in an extreme way - they kill any offspring that do not inherit them.
News about awardees from the Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology and the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology can be found by visiting Vienna BioCenter's newsroom. Here is an overview of the remaining award recipients:
Jessica Stock, recent PhD graduate from the lab of Andrea Pauli at the IMP, described a new mechanism that explains how a single receptor can both generate and sense the concentration gradient of a molecular signal to steer cell migration in the early development of zebrafish embryos.
Sean Montgomery's award-winning doctoral research highlighted commonalities and differences in chromatin organization across bryophytes, leading to inferences about the ancestral state of land plant chromatin.
For his outstanding presentation at a Monday Seminar, Felix Holstein from the lab of Anna Obenauf at the IMP received the Mattias Lauwers Award.