Congratulations to our fellowship winners

Three FMI postdoctoral researchers were among the recipients of the prestigious EMBO postdoctoral fellowships, autumn 2021 selection. In addition, an FMI student was recently awarded a Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (BIF) fellowship. Read on to learn more about these researchers and their projects.

Our latest EMBO fellows
EMBO Postdoctoral Fellowships support young scientists who have demonstrated excellence in their fields throughout Europe and the world for a period of up to two years.

Esther Griesbach Originally from Nürnberg, Germany, Esther holds a master’s degree in cell biology from the University of Bern and did her PhD in the group of Nick Proudfoot at Oxford University, UK. She joined the research group of Jeff Chao at the FMI in January 2021.

Esther is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms driving selective export of mRNAs from the nucleus, and the role of nuclear speckles (NS) in this process. She studies the transit route of mRNAs from their site of transcription to the nuclear pores and the role of NSs using a novel small molecular inhibitor of mRNA export to perturb this process.

mRNA export through the nuclear pore complex is essential for the flow of genetic information from the nucleus to the cytoplasm. Controlling which mRNAs exit the nucleus is a powerful way to regulate gene expression, making it an interesting therapeutic target.

Jakob Schnabl Jakob grew up in Steyr, a small town in Austria, and holds a master’s degree in molecular biology from the University of Vienna. After doing his PhD in the group of Julius Brennecke at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology (IMBA) at the Vienna Biocenter, Austria, he joined the research group of Marc Bühler at the FMI in July 2021.

Jakob aims to obtain a biochemical understanding of ChAHP, a protein complex that binds chromatin and locally inactivates genes. He also wants to gain insights into the function of the chromatin remodeler CHD4 and the heterochromatin binding protein HP1, which are both part of the ChAHP complex, outside of their well-studied function in other contexts.

Since mutations in the human ChAHP complex cause Helsmoortel-Van der Aa syndrome, a severe autism-spectrum disorder, this research will help better understand the disease and delineate potential strategies for treatment.

Luca Vecchia Luca grew up in Piacenza, Italy, a town located on the river Po not far from Milan. After studying medicine and obtaining a specialization in clinical pathology from the University of Pavia, Italy, Luca did his PhD in structural biology at the University of Oxford, UK, in the group of Yvonne Jones. He joined the research group of Nico Thomä at the FMI in August 2021.

Luca’s research aims at elucidating the molecular details, at atomic resolution, of the encounter on a nucleosome (the repeated unit made up of histone proteins around which DNA is wrapped) between transcription factors (DNA binding proteins which are key for switching genes on and off) and chromatin remodellers (proteins which evict or rearrange nucleosomes in order to make room for the transcription factors on the DNA). To this purpose he is using a set of techniques including cryo-electron microscopy.

Mutations in chromatin remodellers are present in over 20% of human tumors. Understanding how chromatin remodellers and transcription factors interact will help understand how these mutations cause diseases. Moreover, "visualizing" the atoms, amino acids and proteins involved in the interactions will help the design of drugs with a high degree of specificity, thus boosting their therapeutic action and reducing their side effects.

Our latest Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (BIF) fellow

The Boehringer Ingelheim Fonds (BIF) awards PhD fellowships of 2 to 3.5 years to outstanding junior scientists worldwide who wish to pursue an ambitious PhD project in basic biomedical research in an internationally leading laboratory.

Nikolaos Armeniakos Nikos studied Medicine at Democritus University of Thrace, Greece. He joined the group of Andreas Luthi as an MD-PhD candidate in March 2021 to study the role of amygdala, a key hub of emotional processing in the brain, in motivated behavior.

In his PhD project, Nikos wants to obtain a mechanistic understanding of how competitive amygdala circuits control whether a response to an emotional stimulus is either engaging or defensive, and how their interaction is actively shaped by neuromodulators such as serotonin.

This work will provide a physiological correlation between amygdala circuit activity and neuromodulators’ action during behaviors that are motivated by opposing emotional stimuli. It will also potentially improve our understanding of how dysregulation of specific brain circuits leads to maladaptive behaviors observed in psychiatric conditions.