LMB PhD students and postdocs recognised for breakthroughs in cryo-EM, brain tissue modelling, and our understanding of membrane protein assembly and thyroid hormone production
At the end of an inspiring, and for the first time virtual, LMB Lab Symposium, Jan Löwe, LMB Director, was delighted to announce the winners of the Perutz Student Prize and Brenner Postdoc Prize.
The Perutz Student Prize has been awarded annually since 1984 by the Max Perutz Fund and recognises outstanding work performed at the LMB prior to the award of a PhD. The 2020 Prize has been jointly awarded to two students: Patrick Chitwood and Katerina Naydenova.
Patrick, who recently finished his PhD in Manu Hegde’s group, made an impressive series of important discoveries regarding the biogenesis of multi-spanning membrane proteins. First, he showed that a factor called the ER membrane protein complex (EMC) drives insertion of the first membrane domain of GPCRs (G protein-coupled receptors). Then, halfway through his PhD, he identified a new membrane chaperone complex, that he named the PAT complex (“protein associated with the translocon”), that promotes the correct assembly of membrane domains. It is paradigm-shifting work that will go into the textbooks. Congratulations Patrick!
Katerina, a PhD student in Chris Russo’s group, solved one of the long-standing and hard problems of electron cryo-microscopy (cryo-EM): she provided the explanation and the solution for the radiation-induced specimen movement that has plagued the field for decades, with the design and creation of a new all-gold grid design that completely eliminates movement. It is rare to see a topic approached with such clarity, analytical skill and practical finesse – a truly impressive achievement. Congratulations Katerina!
The Brenner Postdoc Prize is presented to outstanding LMB postdoctoral researchers who have been in post for less than six years and is sponsored by Royalty Pharma through the Max Perutz Fund. The 2020 Prize has been jointly awarded to three postdocs: Francesca Coscia, Takanori Nakane, and Laura Pellegrini.
Francesca, a postdoc in Jan Löwe’s group, determined the de novo cryo-EM structure of thyroglobulin, the 600 kD protein precursor of thyroid hormones that are essential for vertebrate development and the regulation of metabolism. She then performed a beautiful set of experiments that revealed – and reconstituted – the unusual mechanism of hormone production. Her work lays important foundations to further understand thyroid hormone biology. Congratulations Francesca!
Takanori, a researcher in Sjors Scheres’ group, showed what nobody in their right mind would have predicted could happen so soon, even five years ago. With the help of new hardware and software, he led work to achieve true atomic resolution in a 3D cryo-EM image of a protein for the first time. It is particularly good to see someone so helpful and dedicated to the success of other people’s projects achieve such a breakthrough. Congratulations Takanori!
Laura, a member of Madeline Lancaster’s group, receives the award for her pioneering work on the first choroid plexus brain organoid model. The choroid plexus forms a protective barrier that controls movement of molecules between the blood and the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Laura established the first organoid model that recapitulates this barrier and produces CSF-life fluid-filled compartments. Her new organoid model will enable molecular dissection of the role of the choroid plexus in health and disease, could allow prediction of drug permeability into the brain, and has been used recently to investigate how SARS-CoV-2 might enter the brain and cause long-term neurological complications.
The Max Perutz Fund was established in honour of the LMB’s founder for the promotion and advancement of education and research in molecular biology and allied biomedical sciences. In addition to the Prizes, the Fund’s activities include awards for student travel and postdoctoral fellowships.