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May we introduce: Chethana, Mohammed, Audrey and Baile, Rising Star Fellows 2022



Bildquelle: private

The physicist Chethana came to Freie Universität Berlin as a Rising Star in September 2022.

The aim of this project will be to develop new labeling approaches for Expansion Microscopy to allow for multicolor labeling of structures in fly brains, especially Drosophila. In this project Chethana wants to combine her background in the development of carbon nanodots, quantum dots, and other nanoparticles as fluorescent probes for imaging in cells with the experience in assay development for fluorescence lifetime combined with superresolution microscopy in the Ewers laboratory.

She would like to establish methods based on fluorescence lifetime imaging to allow for the acquisition of up to 5-6 color channels in cells and tissues with Expansion Microscopy. The resulting approach will be required to understand the functional interaction of several molecules with each other during the outgrowth of neuronal axons in the formation of neuronal brain connectivity. This collaborative work is devised to yield unprecedented insight into the cytoskeletal contribution to growth cone steering in the establishment of connectivity using the fly as a model.

Chethana studied Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry in her bachelor at the Mangalore University and graduated with a master's degree in Physics at the National Institute of Technology Surathkal in India. She obtained her Ph.D. degree from school of basic sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology Mandi in India.

I am trained physicist who is enamored by the colourful world of high resolution optical microscopy, which led me to gain expertise in the fluorescence lifetime imaging technique during my doctorate. Then I was looking for postdoc opportunities that allowed me to tackle some serious biological questions which excited and challenged me at the same time using the same technique. Fortunately, I stumbled upon the group led by Prof. Helge Ewers that perfectly blends new microscopy technique development with unveiling the structure-function relationship of proteins in complex cellular environment. When I contacted Prof. Ewers, I found out about this fellowship and decided to design this project. After few rounds of interaction with both Prof. Ewers and Prof. Hiesinger, we came up with a project which was suitable for the fellowship, that symbolizes the amalgamation of knowledges from different streams towards solving a problem.

The one thing that impressed me the most about the science scene in Berlin, would be the ease with which different labs collaborate and strive to get things done. I really appreciate that. The department in particular also has a good collaboration spirit and interactive scientific environment.

The opportunity to meet and get acquainted with many world class biochemists and see how they use the super resolution technique for solving interesting biological problems. May be establish some long term collaborations before I return to India.

Mohammed Elbediwi


Bildquelle: private

The microbiologist Mohammed Elbediwi came to Freie Universität Berlin as a Rising Star in October 2022. He would like to use the fellowship to predict experimentally the antimicrobial resistance evolution in the ESKAPE pathogens.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) represents major global public health threat. The alarmingly increasing number of AMR bacteria throughout the world, which leads to patient deaths, prompted researchers to shift their attention towards alternatives for the current measures.

What is missing in current measures is the attempt to forecast the evolution of resistance to better validate our decisions and actions in antibiotic administration and therefore induce a transformative shift in antibiotic applications.

By using a novel device (EvolChip), Mohammed aims to forecast the AR evolution in ESKAPE pathogens which will lead towards lowering the risk of resistance development and therefore, sustainable use of the antimicrobial drugs in treatment of infections.

Mohammed has a strong experience in the molecular microbiology and tracking the drug resistant pathogens with relevance to the One Health approach. Besides he has produced a far above average number of publications as first author since the start of his PhD.

Mohammed Elbediwi studied veterinary medicine in his bachelor at the Suez Canal University, Egypt, and graduated with a master's degree in food microbiology at the Cairo University in Egypt. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in molecular microbiology at the Zhejiang University in China.

“Since I am really interested in the antimicrobial resistance evolution research scope, the main goal for the application in the Rising Star fellowship was the motivation to work with Prof. Dr. Jens Rolff, who earns a prestige reputation across the field globally. After I contacted with Prof. Jens, I found that my research interest align nicely with research activity on with his laboratory and at the same time leaving enough scope for developpment of an independent research program. We prepared the proposal together and I really appreciated his suggestive comments that comprehensively improved the proposal.

During my research career, I have involved in different research environments (Egypt, China and USA), but I always hear about the supportive environment in Germany, which is crystal clear in department of BCP in FU Berlin. I was surprised by the friendliness and the willingness to help from my colleagues upon my arrival, which had a good effect on my adaptation to my new role. I was also amazed at the cohesion between the different groups, whether they were pursuing the same or different research directions, which positively affects the knowledge dissemination. Finally, I look forward to gaining a nice experience and also improving my research profile quality at Freie Universität Berlin.”

Baile Xu

Porträtfoto von Baile Xu, im Hintergrund Landschaft mit Sternenhimmel

Rising Star Fellow Baile Xu
Bildquelle: private

The biogeochemist Baile Xu came to Freie Universität Berlin as a Rising Star Fellow in April 2022. He would like to spend his time in the lab of biology professor Matthias Rillig to study how microplastic and currently-used pesticides affect soil health and functions. Microplastics and pesticides are considered to be important anthropogenic stressors in the context of global environmental changes. Microplastics can have a negative effect on soil physical structure and ecosystem functions, and pose a potential environmental risk to terrestrial ecosystems. Currently-used pesticides are distributed ubiquitously on land, and more importantly, the co-existence of multiple pesticides in soil can threaten soil biodiversity that maintains ecosystem services. Therefore, Baile Xu wants to gather more information to understand the effect of microplastics combined with pesticides (particularly, the increasing number of pesticides) on soil ecosystem functions.

Baile Xu obtained his Ph.D. degree in Soil Science at Zhejiang University. For one year he was also at the Department of Environmental Science at University of California, Riverside as a visiting Ph.D. student. In his academic career he has published more than 10 peer-reviewed papers (one highly-cited paper), and one of his papers won the Excellent Paper Award. He also served as a guest editor of Frontier in Environmental Chemistry andthe reviewer for many scientific journals.

“The primary reason why I applied for this junior fellowship was the motivation to work with Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig, who earns the prestige across Soil Science, Environmental Science and Ecology. Coincidently, we both are interested in the effect of microplastic pollution in soil ecosystems. Moreover, I have never been to Europe before, and the academic experience in Germany would be intriguing to me.

Freie Universität Berlin is different from both Chinese and American universities where I stayed. As like in this department, three institutes are geographically separated but organically connected. Especially for me, we have an in-depth collaboration with Prof. Dr. Sebastian Riedel to investigate F-containing chemicals’ impact on soil health. I like my working group here. We have a lot of brainstorms and share knowledge and skill unconditionally, which can bridge the gap across multiple disciplines.

All in all, I am so excited and honored to win this junior fellowship, and during my stay here, I would expect to put some environmental chemicals seasoning into the ecology dish to bridge the knowledge gap between ecology and environmental changes.”

Audrey M. Proenca

Rising Star Fellow Audrey M. Proenca

Rising Star Fellow Audrey M. Proenca
Bildquelle: private

The evolutionary microbiologist Audrey M. Proenca came to Freie Universität Berlin as a Rising Star Fellow in January 2022.

She would like to use the scholarship to study what makes bacterial cells different from each other, when the genome and extrinsic environment are the same. Bacteria are much like us in that sense: no two individuals are identical. Even when they share the same genetic code, some cells age faster, some stop growing, and some might grow so much they forget to divide. This is what we call phenotypic heterogeneity.

This current project aims to investigate the deterministic and stochastic processes shaping phenotypic heterogeneity, using bacterial populations as a model system. Researchers at the Institute of Biology at Freie Universität have shown expressive contribution for the matter, demonstrating the large dominance of stochastic heterogeneity and its impact over bacterial lifespans. Together with other scientists Audrey M. Proenca will provide a framework for studying the progression of aging, the robustness of individual heterogeneity, and the sources of differential stress responses within microbial populations.

Audrey M. Proenca studied Biological Sciences at the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil. Subsequently she obtained her Ph.D. degree in Biology at the University of California, San Diego. During her academic carrier she acquired several awards, published in top jounals and and has gained experience in the field of teaching.

“I applied for the Rising Star Fellowship to further my research on the evolutionary processes shaping aging and heterogeneity. After the end of my Ph.D., I was eager to continue contributing toward the field and to expand my network. This fellowship offered a great opportunity to continue my research in Germany, while giving me freedom to define the goals of this new project. Dr. Ulrich Steiner (main host) and I had met at a conference in 2018, and we were both excited at the opportunity of joining our complimentary backgrounds. Whereas Dr. Steiner had studied phenotypic heterogeneity with an emphasis on stochasticity, I had approached similar questions from a deterministic perspective. We realized that a great project could come from a combination of these different ideas, and the Rising Star Fellowship helped materializing this plan. I am grateful for the opportunity to expand my connections in Europe and further my research here in Berlin.

Immediately upon arriving, I was amazed at the receptiveness of the Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy and my working group. My new colleagues were immensely helpful and made this transition easy, so I could quickly get my work started. Sometimes research tends to keep you isolated within your research group or laboratory. I particularly like that this is not the case here. Different research groups are well integrated, both in their science and in their personal connections, which contributes to make it a welcoming and supportive environment. I look forward to a pleasant and enriching experience developing my research at Freie Universität Berlin.”