Awards of the Vienna BioCenter PhD Symposium 2022

Eight students at the Vienna BioCenter were recognized for their outstanding doctoral research during this year’s Vienna BioCenter PhD Symposium. From molecular machines and chromatin biology to transcription, neuroscience, and developmental biology, the awardees’ work covered a broad spectrum of fields in the life sciences. Five students received the Vienna BioCenter PhD Awards, two received the Out of the Box Award, and one the Lauwers Award.

Credit: Belén Pacheco Fiallos and Philipp Dexheimer

PhD students at the Vienna BioCenter form a tight-knit community and organize the Vienna BioCenter PhD Symposium every year, which gathers molecular life scientists from across the globe to share the latest developments in the field. During this event, several students receive awards for their excellent work.

Vienna BioCenter PhD Awards

The best PhD theses from the program defended that year are recognized with the Vienna BioCenter PhD Awards. Five students received the award this year.

Jiri Wald, from the lab of Thomas Marlovits, formerly at the IMP and IMBA, worked to reveal the architecture, functional cycle, and the mechanism of a molecular motor that interacts with DNA. In his thesis, he showed how the RuvAB branch migration complex, a grouping of proteins, converts chemical energy into mechanical work to allow the recombination and repair of DNA. These fundamental discoveries were shared with the scientific community in the journal Nature this August. Jiri Wald is now a postdoc at the University Medical Centre Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany.

Jessica Stock, recent PhD graduate from the lab of Andrea Pauli at the IMP, described a new mechanism that explains how a single receptor can both generate and sense the concentration gradient of a molecular signal to steer cell migration in the early development of zebrafish embryos. She recently published her results in Science Advances. Jessica was also the recipient of the Christine Beattie Award in 2021 for her exceptional work in zebrafish biology. Jessica will soon begin her postdoc at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole in the United States.

Recipient of a PhD Prize by Young Life Scientists Austria and a Vienna BioCenter PhD Award, Maximilian Schneider is now in the exploratory department for cancer signaling at Boehringer-Ingelheim. For his doctoral research in the lab of Daniel Gerlich, Maximilian’s work improved upon our understanding of chromosome formation with a focus on chromatin material properties. He showed for the first time a direct role of condensin independent compaction in chromosome mechanical function. His findings are published in Nature.

Michael Schon won the Vienna BioCenter PhD Award for his work that "focused the lens" of our view on gene regulation during Arabidopsis thaliana embryogenesis. His research permits a clear look at transcript isoform usage and RNA destruction during this critical stage of the flowering plant life cycle. During his doctoral research, he published several apps. Since publication, the Tissue Enrichment Test became a standard quality control step for Arabidopsis embryo and endosperm transcriptomes. NanoPARE has been adopted by multiple labs for experiments where little RNA can be recovered, including plant host-pathogen interfaces. Bookend has potential to reannotate transcriptomes at cellular resolution through single-cell RNA-seq atlases. Michael was a member of the former Nodine group at GMI. He joined Nodine for a postdoctoral position at his new lab at Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands.

Sean Montgomery is an EMBO postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Genomic Regulation and a former member of the Berger lab at GMI. His award-winning doctoral research highlighted commonalities and differences in chromatin organization across bryophytes, leading to inferences about the ancestral state of land plant chromatin. His work provided the proof of principle that imprinting can regulate embryogenesis in a larger range of viviparous organisms and utilize a wider array of repressive mechanisms than previously expected. His findings are published in Current Biology and eLife.

Out of the Box Award

Since 2021, the Out of the Box Award has recognized students who address complex problems using creative, non-standard approaches. Stephanie Eder, an IMP/University of Vienna Ph.D. student in the Zimmer lab, and Daniel Krogull, an IMBA Ph.D. student in the Burga lab, won this year’s award for their proposal. Their project will address the genetic and neural basis of nematodes’ escaping behaviors from their fungal predators.

Lauwers Award

During their doctoral studies, students in the Vienna BioCenter PhD Program present their research in Monday Seminar talks to the Vienna BioCenter community, thereby collecting feedback to advance their projects. For his outstanding presentation at a Monday Seminar, Felix Holstein from the lab of Anna Obenauf at the IMP received the Mattias Lauwers Award. Felix’s project aims to understand what regulates the expression of the major histocompatibility complex class I (or MHC I) – a protein complex which mediates interactions between cells of the immune system and other cells in the body, including potentially cancerous cells.