Success Stories // 12.01.2022 // DECTRIS

Biomolecular Structure And Mechanisms Are in Good Hands

A 5-minute read

Looking back at 2021, we were reflecting on one of the few events that took place in person – one of them was the Biomolecular Structure and Mechanism PhD program. The key to good science is a good and frequent exchange. However, during the last couple of years, this was easier said than done – particularly if you are a young PhD student. So after a two-year break, PhD students of the Biomolecular Structure and Mechanism PhD program used the end of summer for something much better than leisure activities: a PhD retreat. Imre Gonda, one of the organizers, told us about the meeting.
“Our PhD program is interdisciplinary, and it gathers students from the University of Zurich, ETH Zurich, and the Paul Scherrer Institute. We are looking at the biomolecular structures and mechanisms from various perspectives, so the collaboration within the program is very important” explains Imre.

Good scientific discussions with a view - in their free time, the participants were catching sights of Swiss mountains like Mythen

True to its goal, this PhD program has been organizing an annual PhD retreat for 14 years now! The students meet up in Switzerland, and besides enjoying the landscape, they engage in some serious discussions on science, research, and technology. Not surprisingly, the 2021 retreat covered a wide range of tools used by structural biology. Apart from time-resolved X-ray crystallography, the students were vividly discussing cryo-EM for membrane proteins, as well as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), molecular dynamics simulations, and super-resolution microscopy.

“We see interest in performing cryo-electron microscopy experiments, but the award for the best talk went to time-resolved crystallography” says Imre. “In this talk, Maximilian Wranik presented the work of the Standfuss group at the Paul Scherrer Institute. Using the DECTRIS EIGER detector (predecessor of EIGER2), they managed to capture drug binding on tubulin with a series of structures” continues Imre. “The Best Poster Prize was given to Sonja Rutz, from the Dutzler Group at UZH. Her poster presented structures of the LRRC8 channel with allosterically modulating sybodies."

Cryo-EM density of LRRC8A-sybody complexes. (Deneka et al.)

However, the young researchers were also eager to interact with the industry sector. An open discussion did not only revolve about science but touched on the other aspects of life.
“We were happy to see international academic and industry professionals stay at the event and participate in the social events as well,” says Imre. “For us as students, this was a chance to discuss perhaps overlooked topics: soft skills and work-life balance” concludes Imre.
We wish the students all the best in their research and we are looking forward to the next meeting!

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