MtL Fall Days 2023

This year’s Fall days took place at the recently built Center for Protein Assemblies, TUM, Munich. All the MtL students, including Masters and PhDs, got together on 21st and 22nd of September to discuss science, meet students from other sites, assign corporal identities to names and virtual avatars, and enjoy the Oktoberfest! This was an incredible opportunity for the students and faculty to visit our partner institute in Munich, and learn about the pioneering research carried out there.

Let’s talk Science: Current research at Matter to Life

The program included talks given by faculty Fellows and students spread over the two days. After a warm welcome by Prof. Andreas Bausch, who gave us a brief introduction to the academic community at TUM, our first session was kicked off by Prof. Martin Zacharias (CPA, TUM, Munich). His talk centered on the utility of computer simulations to study protein behavior, specifically the stability of protein-protein interactions. Prof. Matthias Rief (CPA, TUM, Munich) continued with the topic of proteins, however in the context of how exactly proteins fold at the single molecule, which they interrogated using optical tweezers.

The afternoon session of the first day was all about the advances in biotechnological research with translational applications. Prof. Hendrik Dietz (TUM, Munich) gave a scintillating talk on DNA origami and aptamers, and their development as carriers for proteins, and viral traps. One day in the near future, these could be used in the treatment of viral diseases such as Chikungunya. Prof. Andreas Herrmann (DWI, Aachen) presented the recent advances made in the field of genetic manipulations using ultrasound, that has obvious advantages over the traditional optogenetic approaches for temporal and spatial control to turn on and off genes. The session and the day were capped off by a keynote talk by an external speaker, Prof. Julian Grünewald (TUM, Munich), who introduced our students to the world of CRISPR, from its humble origins as a nondescript and arcane repetitive sequence to a dynamic and powerful tool in gene therapy. 

On our second day we listened to MtL Fellow Prof. Friedrich Simmel (TUM, Munich) explain how DNA toeholds can be used to build DNA fueled machines. The sophistication and advances in this field mean we can look forward to a DNA computer that could do more than just play tic-tac-toe. The final talk of the program was given by Dr. Zeynep Ökten (CPA, TUM, Munich), which was on how ciliary movements and mechanisms evolved over time, and traced the conserved and adaptable elements of this phenomenon. 

Close-up of the presentation by Hendrik Dietz. He is standing at the lectern in front of a roll-up banner of MPS MtL. He leans on the lectern with his right forearm, his left arm is raised and he underlines his explanations with a gesture.
Andreas Herrmann presents, laser pointer in his right hand, looking up to his left at his projected slides.
Guest speaker Julian Grünewald stands at the lectern and laughs heartily into the audience.
Friedrich Simmel looks thoughtfully into the round after his lecture, hands clasped as he ponders a question from a participant.
Guest speaker Zeynep Ökten underscores her talk with gestures and facial expressions, eyebrows raised, with much enthusiasm for the subject.

Student Talks: Future of Matter to Life

Interspersed with the faculty talks were presentations given by the MtL students. There were 5 student talks in total, who presented either their Master thesis or PhD projects. The research carried out by them as reflected by their presentations encompassed topics ranging from modeling of biological networks and diffusion, information processing in biological systems, to how collagen’s lability could be its secret weapon. The innovative approach and incremental steps taken by our students to address the central question of our school ‘Can we make matter into life?’ was indeed rewarding to observe.

Mubarrat Mahin Mursalin looks to his left at his slides and gives his presentation.
Tarun Mascarenhas stands at the lectern in an MtL T-shirt looking at the laptop with his slides, the laser pointer in his right hand.
Michelle Kemper looks out into the audience after her presentation and listens intently while an attendee asks a question.
Benedikt Rennekamp changes the slide with the laser pointer, his right hand casually in his pocket, the MPS MtL roll-up to his left.
Nitin Bohra props his left hand at his side after his presentation and looks into the audience, the laser pointer still slightly raised in his right hand.

Poster Pitches

The students also presented their projects during the poster presentation session. This was preceded by a poster pitch, wherein each student had 90 seconds to convey a gist of their poster to the audience and entice them to visit the poster and learn more. The sunny weather allowed us to hold the poster presentation in the open space near the seminar hall. The students in their Masters phase, who have not yet commenced their research journey with us, found it eye opening to learn more about the scope and caliber of research done by their seniors.

Alena Taskina shows something on her poster with her right hand. In the reflection of the glazed background you can see several people standing around her.
I Chen points to a spot on her poster with her left index finger and explains something to another student to her left who is looking at that spot. In her right hand she holds a water bottle. In the background, other people can be seen as well as greenery.
Lena Strieker stands with another student at her poster and explains the contents to her. Both are holding a small bottle in their hands. In the background, other participants and also another poster can be seen, as well as the walls of the building in whose courtyard they are.
Arsenii Hordeichyk smiles slightly and speaks into the microphone he holds in his right hand.
Kathrin Laxhuber holds the microphone with both hands and gives the audience a warm, broad smile as she gives a brief outline of the topic of her poster.

Lab Visits and HLM visit

During the second day of the event, the students visited the labs of MtL faculty situated in TUM, Munich; Andreas Bausch, Job Boekhoven, Karen Alim, Matthias Rief, and Martin Zacharias. We would like to especially thank the MtL students, Arsenii Hordeichyk, Jan Jedryszek, Brianda L. Santini, and Michele Stasi, who took the students on a tour of their labs, and bedazzled them with the research taking place there. There was even a docking VR competition, with winners adjudicated. Combining learning and science with fun indeed!

Apart from these, students also had an opportunity to visit the Heinz-Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum where, after thorough security check (it is, after all, one of the few remaining nuclear facilities in Germany), they observed the nuclear reactors, and also real time visualization of naturally occurring radioactivity decay. After a thorough check of their radioactive levels, students were then allowed to exit. Suffice to say, students were impressed by this experience.

We would like to thank all the speakers and students for making this an engaging and lively program, and we believe it is safe to say the event made us all ‘Fall’ in love with science!

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