CEITEC PhD Conference 2021: Doctoral Students from CEITEC are Addressing Major Societal Challenges

22. Feb. 2021

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The CEITEC PhD Conference is an annual event where doctoral students from CEITEC PhD School present the results of their research. The event is open to researchers, academics, as well as to the general public interested in science. This year, due to the current pandemic restrictions, the conference had to take place online. The online conference was viewed by nearly 100 participants, who listened to 14 presentations delivered by the PhD students. The students presented their research results in 20-minute long presentations followed by questions from the audience. An additional 21 doctoral students delivered their one-minute long poster flash talks. The conference was opened by Head of Doctoral Board, Professor Vladimir Sklenar, and by Vice-Rector for Research and Doctoral Studies, Professor Sarka Pospisilova. Professor Sklenar praised the excellent quality of all presentations and regretted that the group was not able to meet in person.

Best Presentations

The best presentation was delivered by Jan Binovsky from Pavel Plevka’s research group, who revealed his newest findings about the baseplate structure of bacteriophage phi812. Being natural predators of bacteria, bacteriophages have been long considered as potential therapeutic agents. The World Health Organization estimates that antibiotic resistance leads to more than 700,000 fatalities globally every year. With bacteria continuing to evolve, this annual death toll is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050 unless solutions are found. Bacteriophage phi812 has been found to infect 95% of Staphylococcus aureus strains. Antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria Staphylococcus aureus cause human infections that are difficult to treat and can lead to death. As the native phage particle approaches its host cell, primary phage receptors make contact with the host cell wall. This interaction triggers a cascade of structural changes in the baseplate, resulting in phage tail contraction and genome delivery. The mechanistic description of the baseplate re-organization, however, was unknown. “Using cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), we reconstructed the phage baseplate before and after the attachment to the host cell. Moreover, we performed a cryo-EM single-particle analysis of recombinant tail spike protein (TSP). Dislocation of the tail spike protein from the centre of the native phage baseplate suggests that it may play a role in triggering the whole contraction mechanism. The structure of biomolecules determines their function, and the understanding of the function is key for the development of new therapies,” explains Jan Binovsky. And why did he decide to pursue a career in science? “Year by year, CEITEC PhD School grows in quality. It can be demanding but it's an opportunity to be part of world-class research. For me, being a researcher means to stand at the boundary of knowledge, although in a narrow field. It's exciting to work on things that no one else knows about,” concludes Jan Binovsky.

The second best presentation was delivered by Darya Volkava from Karel Riha’s research group. “With world population rapidly increasing, it is vital to improve already existing varieties of crops, and create new ones. In my project, we focus on exploring a link between plant reproduction and longevity. Mechanistic understanding of how they are interconnected will allow us to manipulate both the seed production and the lifespan of plants, hence making higher-yielding crops,” explains Darya Volkava, describing the focus of her research. Darya is deciphering the global proliferative arrest, which can be seen as the elusive link between plant reproduction and plant longevity. And why did she join CEITEC PhD School? “What I personally like about CEITEC is the sense of possibilities in the air. Despite being relatively young, the institute has managed to establish a truly amazing infrastructure for researchers to perform at their best. We have great core facilities with state-of-the-art equipment, well-maintained laboratories, and nice personnel, ready to help with both scientific and administrative questions. Also, I really admire the atmosphere in the work place, one of mutual respect and constant support,” Darya summarizes.

The third best presentation was delivered by Ketty Sinigaglia from Mary O´Connell’s research group. Ketty is focusing on elucidating the role of ADAR1 in the innate immunity response. The adenosine deaminase acting on RNA, shortened to ADAR, is an enzyme that catalyses the hydrolytic deamination of adenosine (A) into inosine (I) in ribonucleic acids (RNAs) with a double-stranded character, and leads to the destabilization of RNA duplex structures and genetic recoding. “The first line of defence against invading pathogens is the innate immune system, and it is essential for a cell to differentiate between endogenous and exogenous RNA, which contains different modifications or have a different structure. By editing the endogenous dsRNAs, the ADAR1 enzyme is a key regulator that prevents the activation of the innate immune pathway and the induction of an interferon response,” explains Ketty Sinigaglia. The aberrant activation of this pathway due to mutations in ADAR1 starts an immune response and cells begin to act as if they were virally infected, when no infection is actually present. Ketty is trying to further understand the relationship between ADAR1 and innate immunity. And why did she decide to pursue career in science? "It was at the end of my high school that I decided to follow the scientific path. I was astonished by how all the processes in the human body can work in synergy to make this amazing “machine” work, as if there are some intrinsic instructions that rule the molecule world. I was thrilled about having the chance to zoom inside the cells and learn how they act and “think”. I was always moved by curiosity, by the will to solve a puzzle where one or more pieces are missing. I am glad I chose CEITEC to continue my studies, as besides the innovative equipment that it offers to the researchers, it has numerous facilities that can support your research and allow your work to go smoothly. Here we have numerous opportunities to meet well-known scientists coming from abroad thanks to seminars organized by the institute. It helps with creating connections and that is fundamental if you work in the research field,” concludes Ketty.

Best Poster Flash Talks

The best poster flash talk was awarded to Filip Melicher from Michaela Wimmerová’s research group. His PhD project is focused on lectins, which are proteins responsible for the adhesion of the pathogenic bacteria to host cells. “Structural characterization on atomic resolution helps us to understand the mechanism of host-pathogen interaction. Utilizing obtained information helps us to find an antiadhesive compound that would disrupt this interaction. This so-called “antiadhesive therapy” may be the solution for an increasing number of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria,” says Filip Melicher, explaining the focus of his research. And why did he decide to study at CEITEC PhD School? “The life sciences PhD programme at CEITEC provides a great opportunity to work together with top scientists from many fields. As a researcher, I have access to state-of-the-art equipment thanks to the core facilities, and I have almost no limits in designing my experiments. Working in an international environment helps me to better communicate my results. Based on all these facts, I consider doing a PhD at CEITEC as the best start for my scientific career,” Filip summarizes.  

The second best flash talk was delivered by Tomas Janovic, who works under the supervision of Ctirad Hofr. “We focus on a quantitative description of interaction of essential biomolecules. Our results bring new insights into nucleoprotein complex formation that contribute to genome stability and have a major role in carcinogenesis. We make the first steps that help to understand, describe and defeat cancer cells more effectively,” explained Tomas Janovic. Shelterin is a protein complex formed by six telomere-specific proteins. It is essential for the protection of chromosome ends against unwanted DNA damage response machinery. Shelterin plays a major role in shaping the architecture of telomeric DNA. The formation of a shelterin core complex and the dynamics of core subunits are critical for the assembly of a completely functional complex. “We quantitatively described the order and binding preference of telomere repeat binding factors TRF1 and TRF2 in complex with TIN2 at physiological conditions at a single-molecule level. We used the fluorescence cross-correlation spectroscopy technique to monitor the coincident fluctuations of differently labelled shelterin proteins as they move through the confocal volume of a microscope,” explains Tomas. And why did he start a career in science? “Being a researcher in life sciences gives you all the motivation you need. If you combine it with a great team, research goals and environment, you can achieve great results. However, the most important is the satisfaction that you are part of a community that pushes the boundaries of human knowledge. Do what you love and love what you do,” concludes Tomas.

The third best flash talk was delivered by Marta Siborova from Pavel Plevka’s research group. Marta studies the structure of bacteriophage SU10 from the Podoviridae family, and aims to describe the mechanism of its genome delivery to the host cell. “Understanding how bacteriophages infect bacteria is important for their utilization in phage therapy. Phage therapy can be used as an alternative method to treat bacterial infections, including those caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria,” explains Marta. Her study reveals major structural changes of a phage tail upon attachment on the host cell surface, which were not observed to date. And why did she decide to join CEITEC? “If you want to do excellent science you need fine equipment and great people in the team. There is both at CEITEC,” concludes Marta.

We would like to thank our students for their commitment and hard work! The world needs scientists!

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Ester Jarour Ester Jarour Communications Lead
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