Michel Brück receives the iFZ Masters Prize 2023

The young researcher created an RNA library using synthetic biology and high-throughput methods

December 13, 2023

Michel Brück, master's student at JLU Giessen under PD Dr. Bork Berghoff, conducted research at the Max Planck Institute in Marburg, exploring the intersection of molecular biology, synthetic biology, and bioinformatics. He has now been honored with the iFZ Masters Prize from the Gießen Interdisciplinary Research Center for his outstanding master's thesis.

We all know about libraries of books. But what is a gene library? They help researchers find the gene codes they need, for example, to manipulate bacteria to produce certain products in large quantities or to prevent the production of unwanted proteins.

In his master's thesis, Michel Brück developed and characterized a library of small regulatory RNAs. These RNAs usually do not code for proteins, but regulate protein biosynthesis in nature by binding to target mRNAs. Their presence often determines whether the cell produces a particular product or not. Understanding the function of these small RNAs therefore opens up many opportunities for research, as well as for future developments and advances in medicine and biotechnology.

"Small RNAs are relatively easy to make synthetically. I have constructed RNAs that bind to specific mRNA segments of the bacterium Escherichia coli," explains Michel Brück. "The aim of my project was to suppress antibiotic resistance. Using certain RNAs, we were able to reverse the resistance and make the bacteria sensitive to an antibiotic again. In this way, harmful – resistant – bacteria could be made vulnerable again. Thus, we do not use new antibiotics, but make the bacteria sensitive to established antibiotics by undermining their resistance mechanisms.”

The collaboration with Dr. Daniel Schindler provided the opportunity to test the functionality of numerous constructs using high-throughput methods. At the MPI, the master's student was able to use the high-throughput robots that the research group makes available to other scientists via a service unit.
The goal of the experiments was to build a comprehensive RNA library that characterizes a large number of these regulatory RNAs according to their length and, at the same time, to test how the length of the base sequence influences their function. Another question was whether it is possible to construct a version of the RNA that is effective without so-called helper proteins.

"Bork Berghoff and I have been in contact for more than ten years," says Daniel Schindler. "Now that we are leading our own research groups, we have finally been able to realize our experimental ideas together. Michel is a talent, and his master's thesis has really strengthened the collaboration between the two groups. It is impressive what he was able to achieve". Bork Berghoff adds: "I am delighted that Michel Brück has been awarded the iFZ Master's Prize. This is a tribute to him and his outstanding work. I am also very pleased that he has supported our collaboration so actively and successfully.”

The award ceremony took place on December 13 in Giessen. The next step for Michel Brück will be to start his PhD in the Research group of Prof. Dr. Lennart Randau at the University of Marburg. He wants to investigate how archaea from extreme habitats, which thrive at over 70 degrees Celsius, metabolize nucleotides and modify heat-sensitive RNA. Although the questions will change somewhat, RNA biology will continue to be part of Michel Brück's research.

The Interdisciplinary Research Center (iFZ) of the Justus Liebig University Giessen honors three outstanding master's theses every year. As a scientific infrastructure and interdisciplinary center, the center develops innovative methods for the sustainable use of natural resources under different environmental conditions.

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