Two IMBA PhD students awarded DOC Doctoral Fellowship funding

Daniel Krogull and Baptiste Rafanel, PhD students in the labs of Alejandro Burga and Julius Brennecke at IMBA, received DOC Doctoral Fellowships from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW). The funding will support their doctoral research.

The DOC Doctoral Fellowship funding programme of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) selected the Daniel Krogull and Baptiste Rafanel, PhD students in the labs of Alejandro Burga and Julius Brennecke at IMBA, for one of the programme’s competitive doctoral fellowships.  

Daniel Krogull completed his Master’s Degree in Genetics and Developmental Biology at the University of Vienna. During his Master’s, Krogull interned in the lab of Alejandro Burga, where he contributed to the study that discovered how Mavericks, ancient virus-like transposons, act as vectors for horizontal gene transfer. “Horizontal gene transfer is the process by which a gene from one species is transferred to a different species,” Krogull explains. “In the last years, our team found proof that Mavericks mediate horizontal gene transfer in nematodes, which we now want to study in more detail.”   

Krogull will continue pursuing this fascinating research line as a Vienna BioCenter PhD student in the Burga Lab. In his project, Krogull will study the mechanisms by which Mavericks facilitate horizontal gene transfer. “Although we have evidence that this process occurs in nature, we still do not understand how it works,” Krogull says. “I will try to replicate horizontal gene transfer in real time in the lab, which helps better understand its underlying mechanisms, as well as how the Maverick’s different genetic elements contribute to horizontal gene transfer.”   

In particular, Krogull will combine transgenic technology with biochemical and biophysical methods to study whether a Maverick isolated from Caenorhabditis plicata or heterologous expression systems can form viral-like particles. “Mavericks are very similar to giant viruses, but it is yet unknown whether they can produce viral particles,” Krogull points out. “My research will establish whether Mavericks form these viral particles and, if so, identify their components. I will then use these particles to replicate horizontal gene transfer between nematodes in the lab.”   

“I am very grateful for the support provided by the DOC Doctoral Fellowship Programme. This fellowship will help me give back to my research group, which is especially important to me. On top of that, the fellowship will support my scientific development and help give visibility to my research and that of my group. In addition, I will have the possibility of connecting with other talented scientists in the fellowship programme.” Krogull concludes.  


Baptiste Rafanel is originally from France, but studied at McGill University, in Montréal, Canada. There, he obtained a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Biology and started investigating how gene expression is regulated in the developing Drosophila ovary. After finishing his Master’s Degree, Rafanel was admitted to the Vienna BioCenter PhD program, where he joined the lab of Julius Brennecke. “It was a great opportunity to combine my previous experience with the Drosophila ovary system and my interest in understanding transposons,” Rafanel explains.   

Rafanel’s PhD project builds upon the Brennecke Lab’s recent discovery that transposon-like endogenous retroviruses evolved and diversified their expression patterns to reproduce in all the cell types in the Drosophila ovary. “My project seeks to understand the evolutionary forces driving this diversification and how differences in the regulatory DNA sequences of these retroviruses are reflected in their expression patterns,” Rafanel says. His project will use advanced DNA and RNA analysis technologies in genetically engineered Drosophila models to understand the evolution of regulatory genetic elements in endogenous retroviruses and to provide insight into how these elements are adopted by their hosts to regulate their own gene expression.  

Applying for this DOC Fellowship was already a rewarding process because I learned a great deal about how to apply for funding and make my project appealing to others,” Rafanel says. “Receiving the fellowship is a great recognition for the relevance of my project and a wonderful opportunity to network with other young scientists in a similar position.”  


About the DOC Doctoral Fellowship Programme

The DOC Fellowship Programme of the Austrian Academy of Sciences offers funding for highly qualified doctoral candidates in all areas of research. Selected candidates receive yearly funding for a period of two to three years.