Jamie’s secondment at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology completed

Our ESR Chun Yin (Jamie) Chan from the Carell group at LMU had the opportunity to go on secondment at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge, UK, from July to October 2022.

The MRC LMB is one of the world’s leading research institutes in molecular biology. Jamie joined the group led by Dr. Philipp Holliger, which focuses on chemical biology, synthetic biology and in vitro evolution. The Holliger lab investigates fundamental questions of the chemical logic and constraints of molecular information encoding and the encoded synthesis; replication and evolution of novel sequence-defined biopolymers for applications in biotechnology and medicine; and the emergence of genetic function in chemical systems.

During his stay, Jamie explored the capacity of a recently discovered RNA polymerase ribozyme utilising trinucleotide triphosphates (triplets) as substrates to incorporate chemically modified triplets, for example, for the template-directed and sequence-specific positioning of chemical groups in nucleic acid polymers, and investigated how could these modifications possibly impact the ribozyme’s polymerisation in terms of fidelity, activity and chemical space for evolution in a prebiotic scenario.

From Paris to Reading – Maria’s secondment in the UK

During my NATURE-ETN PhD program, I had the chance to spend two months at the University of Reading, in the UK, supervised by Prof. Christine Cardin and Dr. James Hall.

Even if changing country and environment are always challenging, I realised how a great experience I had the chance to come across from the first moment I arrived in the UK. The first day I went to the lab, the group gave me a very warm welcome, and I felt at home from the beginning.

During this secondment, I learnt many new techniques and developed new skills, supervised by very professional and passionate scientists, always keen to teach me.

During these two months, I evaluated the interaction between the compounds I synthesised at Chimie ParisTech and the DNA, through thermal stability studies. Also, I learned how to use a chiral HPLC and crystallise the compounds and the DNA. These topics and techniques are really fascinating to me, and this experience helped me to better understand my project and its very important aim. Overall, during my secondment, I had the opportunity to learn, develop my scientific skills, and know a different scientific environment.

To be fair, that was not only work… I fell in love with the UK! During the weekend I visited many different places like London, Oxford, and the beautiful British countryside. I spent some evenings in the pubs drinking beers with my new friends and having tea with the delicious scones with clotted cream and jam (the “cream tea”) in the afternoon.

Also, we went out with the group for a beer a few times, as you can see in the picture.

This was a very great experience from both a professional and personal point of view, and I am grateful to be part of this fantastic ETN project.

By Maria Dalla Pozza (PSL)

Second training week – Entrepreneurship, IP and ESR updates

From the 13th to the 15th of September 2021, the ESRs took part in the second online NATURE-ETN training week.

In the first two days, the ESRs updated each other on their progress and receive valuable feedback from their peers and PIs. Potential opportunities for collaboration and secondments were also explored.

On the third day, Dr. Thomas Frischmuth, CEO of baseclick GmbH, provided two training sessions on entrepreneurship and Intellectual Property (IP). Using the leading biotechnological company and NATURE-ETN beneficiary baseclick as a basis, Dr. Frischmuth shared his experience and perspectives in terms of business models and company growth. During the IP session, the ESRs were introduced to internal vs. external IP, patent filing strategies, and examples of European and national patenting processes.

First training week – combining soft and technical skills

From the 18th to the 22nd of June 2021, the ESRs took part in the first NATURE-ETN training week, which covered a mix between soft and technical skills. The training was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent travel limitations.

During the first day, the ESRs were introduced to Hugh Kearns’ (ThinkWell) Seven Secrets of Highly Successful Research Students.

In this workshop, Kearns described key habits that help PhD students complete their research project efficiently, ensuring appropriate work-life balance and overcoming issues such as writer’s block and imposter syndrome.  
 
The second day started with a training session on Research Project Management from the partner organisation accelopment Switzerland Ltd.
 
The training covered aspects such as project planning, project monitoring, reporting, risk management, and project communication.

The scientific training consisted of both live and pre-recorded (asynchronous) lectures and the materials will remain available to the ESRs for future references.

Prof Tom Brown from the University of Oxford gave introductory and advanced lectures on the Synthesis of Biomolecules. This training notably covered nucleic acid structures, as well as oligonucleotide synthesis and their use as drugs in genetic and forensic analyses.
 
Dr Tom Brown Jnr from the oligonucleotide synthesis company ATDBio provided additional insights from more applied and commercial perspectives, and an introduction to ATDBio’s activities.
 
On the third and last day, Prof Andrew Kellett, Coordinator of NATURE-ETN, and his team at the Dublin City University (DCU) introduced the ESRs to artificial gene editing systems and molecular methods.

Prof Andrew Kellett discussed in detail metallodrug-DNA interactions, chemical nucleases, and advanced hybrid biomaterials for gene editing using click chemistry. Pre-recorded lectures with the principles of novel methodologies, techniques, and biophysical assays developed within the Kellett group were followed by high-quality virtual laboratory sessions recorded at the exceptionally well-equipped facilities at DCU.

This was the first of a series of training events that will be held both online and in-person throughout the project duration.