The 4th training week – In the core of NATURE-ETN

Early-stage researchers (ESRs) and principal investigators have been invited to attend the 4th training week at Dublin City University where this EU-funded research consortium was born.

Prof. Andrew Kellett first gave an update on the project before introducing Prof. Nicholas Farrell from Virginia Commonwealth University (US), who is one of the scientific advisors of NATURE-ETN and is interested in Glycosaminoglycans as signalling molecules. He talked about his latest results and joked about how retiring is difficult when you can’t stop looking for more results.

Each ESR presented their results obtained so far followed by questions, comments, and discussions for future ideas. On Thursday, a team from the German biophysical instrument manufacturer NanoTemper delivered training on the Monolith technologies in Andrew Kellett’s lab to ESRs who had the opportunity to prepare the samples, learn how to read the results, and think about how this technology can be applied to their projects.

Finally, on the last day of the training week, ESRs were hosted by Prof. Niall Barron at the National Institute for Bioprocessing Research and Training (NIBRT). Prof. Barron explained the advanced therapy medicinal products, emphasizing the need to keep in mind the patient delivery process while obtaining basic research results. ESRs conducted a complete tour guided by Dr Adam Pritchard who showed and explained the technologies behind the bioproduction of recombinant proteins, vaccines, and cell and gene therapies.

Before saying goodbye, the ESRs decided to go for a walk together. This time down to the lighthouse at Dún Laoghaire, a small town outside the busy Dublin. Prof. Barron mentioned Emerson who said, “Science does not know its debt to imagination”, and isn’t the sea the best place to clear the mind and fire the imagination?

In this training week, new collaborations were created between ESRs, wrapping up before departing to their different locations in Europe, where they will bring home new ideas to apply in their labs and Irish souvenirs!

By Ahmad Abdullrahman (ESR4)

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.

NATURE-ETN ESRs publish review on DNA triplexes

A collaborative review by ESRs Ahmad Abdullrahman from the Department of Pharmacy, Chemistry and Pharmacy Building, University of Reading (UK), and Maria Dalla Pozza from Chimie ParisTech, PSL University, CNRS, Institute of Chemistry for Life and Health Sciences (France) was published in Chemical Science in August 2022.

In this review, entitled Three’s a crowd – stabilisation, structure, and applications of DNA triplexes, the ESRs put their efforts together in proficient teamwork supervised by Dr. James Hall, Prof. Christine Cardin from the University of Reading, and Prof. Gilles Gasser from Chimie ParisTech, PSL University.

They describe the main characteristics of triplex DNA structures, focusing on their application and interaction with metal compounds, highlighting the need for additional structure characterization and biological studies.

The DNA triplex may be formed naturally, during homologous recombination, or can be formed by the introduction of a synthetic triplex-forming oligonucleotide (TFO) to a DNA duplex. Among others, the most interesting feature of TFOs is their sequence specificity in binding a duplex DNA. The authors first compare the triplex structure with the canonical B-DNA structure. Subsequently, they report the main modifications at the base, sugar and phosphate backbone levels currently available to obtain a more stable structure, considering the potential in vivo conditions.

There is significant interest in developing TFOs with potential therapeutic applications, including their use as a delivery mechanism for compounds able to modify or damage DNA. However, to combine triplexes with functionalised compounds, a full understanding of triplex structure and chemical modification strategies is essential, stress the authors. In the review, these areas are discussed. Moreover, the possible use of photoactive Ruthenium polypyridyl complexes as a suitable photophysical payload for a TFO system is presented in this scientific paper. With the hope that future research will harness the peculiar characteristics of DNA triplexes.

Third NATURE-ETN training Week in Munich, Germany

From the 16th to the 20th of May 2022, our fifteen NATURE-ETN early-stage researchers (ESRs) were finally reunited in Munich, Germany, for the third training week. The event was held in the recently built Institute of Chemical Epigenetics Munich (ICEM), in the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich (LMU). The ICEM building is funded by the Federal Republic of Germany and the state of Bavaria and results from the initiative of Prof. Thomas Carell, Principal Investigator in NATURE-ETN. It hosts two of our ESRs from the Carell group who recently moved to this new building.

On the first day of the training week, the ESRs received a guided tour of ICEM and introductory sessions on mass-spectrometry-based proteomics by Dr. Pavel Kielkowski and sequencing technology by Dr. Markus Müller.

On the second day, the scientific training was pursued with morning sessions on epigenome sequencing by Dr. Müller and Dr. Pascal Giehr. In the afternoon, Dr. Müller provided a bioinformatics crash-course with RNAseq and Prof. Carell gave a lecture on the synthetic chemistry of nucleosides.

On the third day, the ESRs formed groups to discuss ways of enhancing science communication to different audiences.

The training programme also covered industry-relevant skills, with a stimulating session on Quality Management delivered by Alexander Schalk, Quality Manager at the company Baseclick GmbH, also a beneficiary in NATURE-ETN.

The ESRs had the afternoon free to visit Munich and better get to know each other, in the first in-person meeting since the start of the project.

On the fourth and fifth days, the ESRs, along with other researchers from the LMU Department of Chemistry, attended the Nature masterclass delivered by Dr. Véronique Gebala, Senior Editor at Nature, and Dr. Ilse A. Valtierra-Gutierrez, Associate Editor at Nature Communications.

The comprehensive training included sessions on the preparation and submission of high-quality papers, the editorial and peer-review processes, and best practices in scientific publishing. The trainers also take the time to review abstracts prepared in advance by the ESRs.

We thank the organisers at LMU and the trainers for this successful event and already look forward to the 4th training week, to be held this Autumn in Dublin, Ireland.

In the meantime, most ESRs will meet again on the 5th to 10th of June for the XVIIIth Symposium on Chemistry of Nucleic Acids, in Český Krumlov, Czechia, organised by the Hocek group.

New publication examines the multi-modal activity of copper(II) and silver (I)-phendione complexes on DNA scission within P. aeruginosa

Recent collaborative work from NATURE-ETN has been published in the Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry by researchers in the Kellett lab at DCU. Co-authors include NATURE-ETN coordinator Dr. Andrew Kellett, co-supervisor Dr. Georgia Menounou, and ESR Conor Bain. The paper investigated the multi-modal activity of copper(II) and silver(I) complexes with the N,N-coordinating ligand, 1,10-phenanthroline-5,6-dione, with particular focus on DNA damage within Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

The emergence of microbial drug-resistance in recent decades has given rise to the need for novel antimicrobial therapeutics. The metal-based complexes [Ag(1,10-phenanthroline-5,6- dione)2]ClO4 (Ag-phendione) and [Cu(1,10-phenanthroline-5,6-dione)3](ClO4)2.4H2O (Cu-phendione) have previously demonstrated efficient antimicrobial action against multidrug-resistant species. The focus of the study was to understand the binding potential of these complexes with double-stranded DNA using a combination of in silico and in vitro approaches. Promising results arising from this work revealed a potentially new class of antimicrobial drug candidate with a distinct therapeutic mechanism against the multidrug-resistant pathogen P. aeruginosa.

Molecular docking studies showed both complexes elicit a multi-mechanistic approach to DNA-binding via hydrogen bonding, hydrophobic and electrostatic interactions, with both complexes favouring minor groove binding. Of the two complexes, Cu-phendione achieved the highest binding affinity for both major and minor grooves with nearly 10x greater affinity to DNA than Ag-phendione and nearly 20x greater affinity than the phendione ligand alone. Cu-phendione achieved DNA scission through free radical oxidative damage, as well as DNA-nicking and relaxation of supercoiled plasmid DNA. It was concluded that both complexes elicit a dose-dependent effect, with successful DNA fragmentation within multi-drug resistant pathogen P. aeruginosa when treated with a single dose of Cu-phendione. This work proposes a novel dose-regulated class of metal-based antimicrobial therapeutics.

Reference:

Galdino, A.C.M., Viganor, L., Pereira, M.M., Devereux, M., McCann, M., Branquinha, M.H., Molphy, Z., O’Carroll, S., Bain, C., Menounou, G., Kellett, A., Dos Santos, A.L.S. Copper(II) and silver(I)-1,10-phenanthroline-5,6-dione complexes interact with double-stranded DNA: further evidence of their apparent multi-modal activity towards Pseudomonas aeruginosaJ Biol Inorg Chem (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00775-021-01922-3

Global Tech Company Biotage acquires ATDBio

On 20 October 2021, one of NATURE-ETN’s partners, ATDBio has announced that it has been acquired by Swedish multinational life sciences company Biotage for approximately £ 45 million. The acquisition will bring many years of experience and expertise in highly complex DNA and RNA production to Biotage. As a new part of the Biotage Group, the ATDBio founders will continue to work on these technologies with existing and new customers. While ATDBio is undergoing major changes, R&D projects such as the ones that are ongoing as part of NATURE-ETN – with early-stage researcher Diallo Traore on CRISPR-Cas 9 in live-cell imaging – will continue as planned.

ATDBio is very proud to become part of the Biotage family, which shares our passion for innovation, customer focus and sustainability. With our deep understanding of nucleic acid chemistry, we can ensure superior quality oligonucleotide synthesis, and supply highly pure products. We make oligonucleotides for a broad range of academic and commercial customers, including some of the most significant biotech and pharma companies globally. We will now be able to scale up even further thanks to the global presence and world-leading separation science expertise of Biotage.  We will continue to innovate, helping our customers to bring the next generation of nucleic acid molecular diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics to the market”, said Dr Tom Brown Jr, Director of ATDBio.

ATDBio was founded in 2004 by Professor Tom Brown (Snr), one of the world’s leading nucleic acids chemists, Dr Dorcas Brown, an expert in oligonucleotide synthesis, Dr Tom Brown (Jnr) and Dr Asha Brown. It has laboratories in Oxford and Southampton, UK. As a leader in complex oligonucleotide synthesis, ATDBio has been working on molecular diagnostics, nucleic acid-based therapeutics and vaccines in addition to a new generation of DNA and RNA sequencing technologies.

Press release (Biotage)

Press release (ATDBio)

Successful NATURE-ETN check meeting

The NATURE-ETN check meeting with our European Commission Research Executive Agency (REA) Project Officer took place online on the 5th of October 2021. Our Coordinator reported on the progress of the project and the COVID-19- and Brexit-induced challenges encountered and successfully solved through effective mitigation measures and collaboration. On their side, our 15 ESRs introduced themselves, their project objectives and training ambitions. The discussions on the next steps and upcoming milestones with the REA Project Officer were both fruitful and informative.

This meeting was the occasion to highlight our appreciation for the REA’s flexibility and support in these uncertain times and our gratitude for being part of the Marie-Skłodowska-Curie Actions community. A community that now counts two Nobel Prize winners in Chemistry for the second year in a row.

Open position in Oxford, UK

The research group of Prof. Tom Brown from the Oxford University Department of Chemistry is looking for an Early-Stage Researcher (ESR) for a period of three years. The ESR will work on a project entitled “chemically modified CRISPR systems for improved gene editing”, which aims to use cutting-edge nucleic acid chemistry to radically alter the mechanism by which the CRISPR-Cas9 system functions.

Deadline for application: 10 March 2021

Job description and application details

Picture: Bodleian Library, Oxford / Author: Zhushenje