Lab retreat in Freital – September 28th, 2020

The Hyman Lab held a 1-day-retreat at Schloss Burgk in Freital, Germany, to look back at progress made since last year, how the field of phase separation is taking shape, and the way forward from here.

Lab retreat group photo – Freital,DE 2020

Some impressions from the day:

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Podcast: a Career in Academia and Founding a BioTech Company

The Offspring group of the Max Planck PhD net talks with Tony about his carreer in academia and how he founded two BioTech companies.

The offspring magazine podcast series is “hosted for doctoral researchers by doctoral researchers. The team wants to make the process of getting a doctorate more transparent and raise awareness for career opportunities inside and outside of science”
Enjoy listening!

you can listen as well on any of the other platforms

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The Postdoc Summer Chalk Talks 2020 continue with Patrick McCall and Samir Vaid

Even though it’s 35°C outside and the wasp season is in full swing, a sizeable group of scientists gathered outside the entrance of the MPI-CBG to listen to Patrick McCall and Samir Vaid walk them through their research interests and outcomes in the second week of our summer chalk talk series.

Patrick McCall, an ELBE postdoc working at the Hyman and Brugués labs, started with a talk on “reverse-engineering biomolecular phases with quantitative phase microscopy”. His goal is to probe the connection between how cells design proteins from a pool of amino acids in native and modified states so that they have the desired properties that drive compartmentalisation.

Patrick McCall describes the frequency-dependent material response of the actin cortex as an example of a desirable property the cell developed through the design of the cytoskeleton

Experimentally, Patrick deploys quantitative phase microscopy using a holographic microscope at MPI-CBG to measure the refractive index of condensates formed by proteins in vitro. In aqueous solutions, the refractive index is linearly proportional to the concentration of the protein, allowing for the plotting of the binodal curve in the phase diagram. Patrick aims to manipulate the sequence of proteins known to phase separate at physiological conditions and plot their phase diagrams to deduce the effect of sequence variations on the behaviour and consequently the compartmentalisation of given proteins. By generating enough data from experiments, he then aims to infer parameters that can be used when simulating how the phase diagram of other, untested proteins would respond to changes in the sequence of said proteins, thereby predicting how mutations in genes and changes in protein sequence would affect the compartmentalisation and consequently activity of a given protein in cells.

Samir Vaid explains the role of CSF composition in determining the length of the neurogenic period in the developing mouse embryo

Samir Vaid from the Huttner lab then explained his work on examining the role of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) composition in determining the length of the neurogenic period in the developing mouse embryo. Samir performed proteomic and computational analysis to determine the composition of the CSF at different stages of development of the mouse embryo to find the components that could determine how long the neurogenic period lasts. He aims to unveil whether manipulating the levels of these components would prolong the neurogenic period, thereby increasing the size of the upper layers of the neocortex of the mouse.

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Postdoc Summer Chalk Talks 2020 take off with Tina and Thomas

Keeping in mind social distancing rules while ensuring a relaxed and informal setting, Tina, Jacobo, and Anna launched the Postdoc Summer Chalk Talks 2020 at the MPI-CBG to offer a weekly Friday seminar during the summer holidays.

In the first round, Tina Wiegend from the Hyman & Grill Labs, and Thomas Quail from the Brugués Lab, presented their research on the role of bimolecular condensates in cellular structure and function.

Tina Wiegand introduced her theories on the regulation of WASP and Actin condensates in the first round of Postdoc Chalk Talks in Summer 2020. Photo Credit Eduardo Jacobo Miranda Ackerman.

Tina’s talk “Actin(g) in condensates” exploring how condensates containing globular actin and its regulators WASP and Arp2/3 are regulated. She explored multiple theories to explain what she has observed in the experimental model C. elegans and in vitro reconstituted condensates from purified proteins. From mechanical forces, to compositional control and spatial conformation, Tina is testing all possibilities to explain how WASP condensates polymerise actin in the presence of Arp2/3 and control its shape, size and location. Through her research, Tina aims to answer the question “what is the role of condensates in the formation of the actin cortex in C. elegans.

Thomas Quail explains the mathematical function the describe the capillary forces exerted by FOXA1 condensates on the DNA in the first round of Postdoc Chalk Talks in Summer 2020. Photo Credit Mohamad Almedawar.

Thomas followed with a rather entertaining talk, “Capillary forces and condensates” on the use of a mathematical formula to explain how FOXA1 condensates bring promoter and enhancer regions of the DNA in close proximity to induce transcription despite being linearly separated by several kilo bases (kb). FOXA1 is a pioneer factor (transcription factor that binds to heterochromatin and induce its unfolding) that has a DNA binding domain and an intrinsically disordered region that is postulated to enable phase separation. The mathematical function he developed explains the relationship between free energy and capillary forces pulling on the DNA into the condensate, allowing the promoter and enhancer regions to come in close proximity.

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Opening: PhD student (m/f/d) in Biophysics

The Hyman and Zechner labs are looking for a PhD student to research the control of cellular noise via phase separation.

Brief summary:

Liquid condensates provide a potential mechanism to control molecular fluctuations in cells. We have recently provided a first proof of principle of this idea using theory and single-cell experiments. In this project, we want to explore this concept more broadly within physiological contexts and understand its functional implications for cellular control. The project has a highly interdisciplinary character and bridges between experimental work and theory. We welcome both theorists and experimentalists to apply.

Qualifications of the candidate: 

Biophysics, biochemistry, single-cell biology, theoretical physics, stochastic processes.

Relavent Publications:

  • Klosin, A.*, Oltsch, F. *, Julicher, F., Harmon, T., Honigmann, A., Hyman, A.A., Zechner, C. (2020). Phase separation provides a mechanism to reduce noise in cells. Science 367, 464-467.  *(co-first authors)

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The National Academy of Sciences elected new members…

2020 NAS Awards announced

and we are happy that Tony got elected as well! Congratulations from the whole lab.

The Academy has around 2400 members amd Tony will be one of only 500 international Scientist in the Academy.

The National Academy of Sciences was founded in 1863 to “...provide independent, objective advice to the nation on matters related to science and technology“. This objective seems to be more important than ever these days.


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Tony receives NOMIS award and is now NOMIS distinguished scientist

The Swiss based NOMIS foundation “…enables outstanding talent to take on high-risk research”. Now they awarded Tony and the lab $2.5 million in recognition of our “contributions to the advancement of science and human progress”. The money is awarded for the project “Phase Transitions and Biological Condensates: The Molecular Sociology of Cell Organization” and we will investigate the physical-chemical basis by which intrinsically disordered proteins phase-separate and explore the roles of phase separation in physiology and disease.

Congratulations as well to the other awardees, Ronald Evans from Salk

link to the NOMIS foundation

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Die neue Biologie der Tröpfchen

Berlin newspaper Tagesspiegel article of Sascha Karberg about the discovery and applications of phase separation

“Es ist eine Entdeckung, die das Verständnis der Zelle revolutioniert. Die erste Firma, die das neue Wissen für neue Therapien nutzt, kommt nun nach Berlin”. click here for full article in german
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Our kinetochore paper is selected for the 65th birthday collection of JCB

For the collection celebrating the 65th anniversary of the Journal of Cell biology, our paper Functional Analysis of Kinetochore Assembly in Caenorhabditis elegans was selected for its contribution to “dissecting the mechanics of cell division”. The paper from 2001 by Karen and Arshad, postdocs in our lab at the time has great company there. Click here for the link

GFP-histone H2B was used to visualize chromosome segregation during the first mitotic cell division

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Tony wins 2020 Wiley Prize in Biomolecular Sciences

Tony wins the 19th annual prize together with Clifford Brangwynne of Princeton university and Michael Rosen of the Southwestern University in Texas for their work on defining phase-separated biomolecular condensates. In a statement of the Wiley foundation their work was recognized for…

revealing a new principle for subcellular compartmentalization based on formation of phase-separated biomolecular condensates, a process implicated in both physiological and pathological events

Since 2002 the prize has recognized “breakthrough research in pure and applied life sciences research”. Past prize winners “have been chosen because of their breakthrough research in areas as diverse as genetics, cell motility, folded proteins and siRNA. The impressive list of past recipients includes winners of the Nobel Prize and the Lasker Prize in basic medical research”

Congratulations to Tony, Cliff and Mike and all their coworkers in their labs!

click here for the original press announcement.

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