Three Awards at the Mosbach Colloquium

Triple Success for MPI-TM scientists: GBM Awards go to Katharina Höfer, Luca Schulz, and Helena Schulze-Mirbach

March 18, 2024

The annual conference of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (GBM) is held in the picturesque town of Mosbach in Baden, Germany. This year, three researchers from the MPI-TM are honored: Dr. Katharina Höfer is awarded the Otto Meyerhof Prize, Dr. Luca Schulz receives the GBM Doctoral Prize 2023, and Helena Schulze-Mirbach receives the Rainer-Rudolph Award.

Dr. Katharina Höfer's fascination with research began early on: in 2009, she came into contact with RNA for the first time and has been researching the role of a new building block she co-discovered since then. For her research, she has now been honored with the Otto Meyerhof Prize. The prize is awarded to outstanding young scientists up to the age of 40. It commemorates the world-famous physiologist and biochemist Otto Meyerhof, who worked in Kiel, Berlin and Heidelberg, from where he was forced to flee as a Jewish scientist in 1938.

Since 2020, Katharina Höfer and her research group "Bacterial Epitranscriptomics" at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology have been investigating the function of RNA modifications in bacteria. She showed that a specific RNA modification acts as a "molecular glue" that firmly connects RNA and proteins, opening up many new methodological approaches and applications. Katharina Höfer is delighted that her topic is now recognized as a new field of research in which many colleagues are working on the same RNA modification. She is investigating the mechanisms she discovers not only from the perspective of basic research, but also with a view to possible future applications.

"As a member of SYNMIKRO, we have many opportunities open to us, for which I am very grateful, be it the connection to chemistry, structural biology or the opportunity to work on different cells, as in our latest collaboration. Interdisciplinarity is essential for innovative, application-oriented research. Marburg is "the perfect place" to actively advance research into bacterial RNA modifications, and the award motivates and encourages me to continue on this path”, says Katharina Höfer.

Dr. Luca Schulz receives the GBM Doctoral Prize for his outstanding work on protein function and evolution. His topic was initially basic research par excellence: the evolution of proteins involved in photosynthesis. Already as an undergraduate, he became interested in the evolution of proteins, both in general and in specific applications. His Ph.D. dissertation combined both: aspects relevant to future applications emerged from pure basic research. "The fact that my results have been recognized and appreciated by the scientific community is of course a great pleasure," says Luca Schulz. "There is a wonderful symbiosis here at the MPI between Georg Hochberg's group, which studies evolution, and Tobi Erb's group, which works more biochemically on CO2-fixing enzymes, and I was able to freely explore how the evolution of these enzymes takes place. The specific questions followed automatically".

Luca Schulz investigated how nature evolves biocatalysts. From this, he was able to derive design principles that will hopefully help in the future to specifically develop or improve proteins in the laboratory through directed evolution. His postdoctoral research will continue in the direction of applied research. Starting this summer, Luca Schulz will be working at the Green Lab in Manchester.

Helena Schulz-Mirbach is a PhD student in Tobias Erb's research group. In her doctoral thesis, she investigated the in vivo implementation of CO2 fixation cycles. By artificially linking novel metabolic pathways with the natural metabolism of E. coli, she enabled cell growth by utilising synthetic metabolic pathways. Together with her colleagues, she optimised bottleneck reactions and thus developed novel CO2-utilising E. coli strains.

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