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May we introduce: Aditi and Yves, Rising Star Fellows 2023

Rising Star Fellow Aditi Gupta

Rising Star Fellow Aditi Gupta
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Aditi Gupta

The biochemist Aditi Gupta came to Freie Universität Berlin as a postdoctoral research fellow in 2022, working under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Sutapa Chakrabarti at the Institute of Chemistry and Biochemistry. She will also collaborate with the group of Prof. Dr. Katja Nowick at the Institute of Biology.

Her research involves understanding the interdependence of the intricate network of UPF1-dependent mRNA decay pathways, that govern mRNA surveillance and turnover in the cytoplasm in response to environmental stress or other external cues. Targeted mRNA decay involves recognition of specific RNA elements by RNA binding proteins, which form a complex with mRNA and promote degradation through ribonucleases. Remodelling of the RNA by factors like RNA helicases enables accessibility for degradation enzymes. UPF1-dependent mRNA decay pathway relies on helicase UPF1 for resolving RNA structures.

Primarily the research will focus on the non-sense-mediated mRNA decay pathway (NMD) and Staufen-mediated mRNA decay pathway (SMD). These pathways are believed to be in competition as UPF1 helicase was observed to interact with UPF2 in NMD and Stau1 in SMD. However, recent scientific developments further suggest the involvement of UPF2 and other NMD-specific accessory proteins in the SMD pathway.

The project aims to determine whether the common proteins in both NMD and SMD pathways affect the flux through these pathways. To this end, pathways would be specifically inhibited to assess rearrangements in flux. Additionally, the project aims to investigate if the shuttling of proteins between different pathways are associated with flux rearrangements and if NMD and SMD share more proteins by generating specific knockouts. The project also aims to understand the physiological significance of flux rearrangement due to shared proteins. The project will utilize the host lab's expertise in protein-protein interaction studies to examine NMD-specific proteins for interactions with SMD-specific proteins, while study the global transcriptional changes in response to flux alterations in one of the pathways in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Nowick.

Aditi Gupta obtained a Bachelor of Technology (B. Tech.) in Biotechnology from Banasthali University, Jaipur, India. She then completed her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore, India, under the guidance of Professor P.N. Rangarajan. She earned her Junior and Senior Research fellowships from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Government of India followed by a Senior Research fellowship from the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, between 2020 and 2021.

 “With my background in mRNA metabolism, coupled with an array of biochemical, cell-based, and high-throughput techniques, I strongly believe that there is still so much to learn from the wealth of knowledge and experience that Prof. Chakrabarti possesses. I am curious about the complexities of the crosstalk between NMD and SMD and the intricate ways in which they impact the flux through each other.

Prof. Chakrabarti is an encouraging mentor embodying enthusiasm for new ideas and fostering collaborations. I appreciate her availability and willingness to support and provide input to all lab members, despite her busy schedule. Lab meetings and shared meals have become a dear new routine at her lab. What I particularly like about the department is their cooperative approach, which nurtures constructive discussions, idea sharing, and reagent exchanges.

My project offers a tremendous opportunity to develop a new research topic from scratch while also expanding the current area of research of the lab at the same time. This undertaking requires me to cultivate meaningful relationships, foster collaborations, adapt techniques, and standardize protocols, all of which are essential in shaping me as a future group leader.

Berlin is a very lively city that exudes cultural diversity and inclusivity. Finding accommodation in Berlin and complete relocation was challenging but it somehow worked out for me. My daily commute to campus is a serene experience, thanks to the lush greenery surrounding the campus. But when I started here in beginning of winters, I missed the sun. Apart from that, I miss the IISc mensa food and meditation club and also my family members.”

Yves Hermandez Tchiechoua

Rising Star Fellow Yves Hermandez Tchiechoua

Rising Star Fellow Yves Hermandez Tchiechoua
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The biologist Yves Hermandez Tchiechoua came to Freie Universität Berlin as a Rising Star Fellow in April 2023 to work under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig at the Institute of Biology.

His aims to understand how microplastics affect soil microbial diversity and composition, contributing to soil health in Cameroon. To do this, he first needs to establish baseline data for microplastic in soils, currently unavailable data. Therefore, his first goal is to quantify and characterize MPs in soil samples of agricultural land from urban areas (i.e., with traditional farming systems where several crops are farmed together) and from industrial farming systems with monoculture in Cameroon. His second goal is to assess the potential effects of microplastic in African soils from Cameroon, using an experimental approach to plant growth and, he will also assess the effect of MPs on soil microbial diversity using molecular biology and bioinformatics tools.

Yves Hermandez Tchiechoua earned a Bachelor's degree in Plant Biology from the University of Yaoundé I in Yaoundé, Cameroon. Subsequently, he pursued a Master's degree in Plant Biology and Biotechnology at the same university. His Master's thesis involved a morphological and molecular study of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) associated with Prunus africana (Hook. f.) Kalkman in two agroecological zones of Cameroon—a research interest he continued to pursue during his PhD in Molecular Biology obtained from the Pan African University, Institute for Basic Sciences, Technology, and Innovation (PAUSTI) in Nairobi, Kenya.

Throughout his career, which includes stints as a research fellow in Dakar, Sénégal, Wuhan, China, Stellenbosch, South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya, he has learned and mastered plant-microbe interaction techniques, particularly the use of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) to improve soil health. He has explored different methods for optimizing soil resources, such as AMF, and studied synergy effects to make mutually beneficial use of trees, crops, and other agro-ecosystems.

“I first heard about the fellowship on Prof Rillig’s Twitter page. I follow his YouTube channel where he talks about research and the researcher’s life in general, and his LinkedIn and Twitter pages where I could gain valuable insights into his research on soil ecology. Joining his lab was then a dream for me and here was the opportunity to seize.

Coming from an African country where sophisticated research infrastructures are scarce to inexistent, I was impressed seeing the new environment I was going to evolve in for my research with countless possibilities. Arriving in Berlin, it also struck me that the public transport system is very well-structured and organized.

In my leisure time, I enjoy running. Therefore, evening runs along the river canal have become a routine. However, getting used to the early sunrise and late sunset wasn’t so easy for me. But what I miss most are Cameroonian dishes.”