News

An open dialogue amongst research members, with the media and the public is key to the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. You can find the latest news in our newsletter "MOLEKULAR-ia", or use the links to various Articles and Broadcasts and other Media information featuring useful information as well as photos and videos on this NCCR.

Thomas Ward wins Royal Society of Chemistry award

Thomas Ward, Director of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering.

Thomas Ward, Professor of Bioinorganic Chemistry at the University of Basel and Director of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering, is the Royal Society of Chemistry Bioinorganic Chemistry Award winner for 2017.

Professor Ward’s group has been combining chemical and biological tools for fifteen years. They create artificial metalloenzymes that can be used for the production of biofuels or as highly specific drugs to target and destroy diseased cells.

The Bioinorganic Chemistry Award is awarded for outstanding research in any aspect of bioinorganic chemistry. Professor Ward said: “I am extremely pleased and honoured to be recognized by the bio-inorganic community. It feels good to be part of this great family of scientists.”

Since 2008 Thomas Ward is Professor for Bioinorganic Chemistry at the University of Basel and 2016 he is the director of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. His research is centered on the exploitation of proteins as host for abiotic cofactors. The resulting artificial metalloenzymes display features reminiscent of both homogeneous catalysts and enzymes. Such systems can be optimized in vivo by Darwinian evolution schemes. > read more

National Academy of Engineering elects new members

Prof. Martin Fussenegger was elected by the National Academy of Engineering as foreign member in the class of 2017.

Election to the National Academy of Engineering is among the highest professional distinctions accorded to an engineer.  Academy membership honors those who have made outstanding contributions to "engineering research, practice, or education, including, where appropriate, significant contributions to the engineering literature" and to "the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology, making major advancements in traditional fields of engineering, or developing/ implementing innovative approaches to engineering education." > Read more

New weapon against diabetes

The Fussenegger group has used the simplest approach yet to produce artificial beta cells from human kidney cells. Like their natural model, the artificial cells act as both sugar sensors and insulin producers, as reported in Science. Read more in English or German.

The hidden side of sulfur

Synthetic organic chemistry consists of transforming existing molecules into new molecular structures or assemblies. These new molecular systems are then used in a myriad of ways in everyday life - in a wide range of sectors, such as public health, energy and environment, for use in drugs, solar cells, fragrances, and so on. The active element in the molecule that initiates these transformations, known as the catalyst, is often hydrogen. However, Matile’s group has found that a sulfur atom, if carefully inserted into a molecule, can not only become an extremely effective catalyst but can also operate with greater precision. This discovery, published in Angewandte Chemie, has the potential to revolutionize the world of synthetic organic chemistry. It paves the way for the creation of new molecules that can be used in our daily life. Read more.

Mapping of binding of a virus to animal cells

In this NCCR, we employ viruses to restore vision, to program animal cells, or to cure metabolic disorders. With a view to developing new approaches for the directed infection of single animal cells in vitro and in vivo, the Müller and Roska groups quantified the initial binding events of enveloped viruses to animal cells. It was found that within a millisecond, viruses form bonds with positive allosteric modulation to quickly occupy the three binding sites of the viral glycoprotein. This occupation is needed to initiate virus fusion and uptake by the host cell. For more information see Alsteens et al. Nature Nanotechnology (2016).

Bringing artificial enzymes closer to nature

The Ward and the Panke groups have developed an artificial metalloenzyme that catalyses a reaction inside of cells without equivalent in nature. This could be a prime example for creating new non-natural metabolic pathways inside living cells, as reported in Nature. > Read more. Find the press release in English and German here.

Nanoparticles for the MRI – Smart contrast agents

Read the interview in the online-magazine "Compamed" with Cornelia Palivan, project leader of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering.

Chimia issue on Molecular Systems Engineering

Read Chimia 6/2016 with 12 scientific articles by various research groups from the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering and an editorial by the directors.

Engineering a Chemical Switch into a Light-driven Proton Pump

Dimitrios Fotiadis, University of Bern.

Synthetic biology is an emerging and rapidly evolving engineering discipline. Scientists from the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering have engineered a chemically switchable version of the light-driven proton pump proteorhodopsin – an essential tool for efficiently powering molecular factories and synthetic cells. > Read more

Ward and Matile groups publish “Anion-π Enzymes"

The anion-π enzyme consists of an electron-poor arene cofactor (grey stick representation) embedded within a protein (displayed as surface). Illustration: Thomas Ward.

A negative enzyme yields positive results 

Chemistry has provided many key tools and techniques to the biological community in the last twenty years.  We can now make proteins that Mother Nature never thought of, image unique parts of live cells and even see cells in live animals. This week in ACS Central Science, two research groups from the NNCR Molecular Systems Engineering show how to design an unnatural protein with new-to-nature capabilities. 

Proteins are the workhorses of every cell. They are made up of building blocks called amino acids that are linked up and fold together into functional machines to power every major cellular process. To do these tasks, nature relies on twenty of these blocks together with a few special “co-factors,” often vitamins. However, chemists have discovered clever ways of expanding a protein’s repertoire, engineering in different amino acids or co-factors than you would find in natural biology. Stefan Matile, Thomas Ward and co-workers designed a new co-factor that reverses a classic protein interaction called the cation-π, meaning the stabilization of a positive charge on an electron-rich molecular plane. Nature uses these cation-π interactions to prepare molecules as important as steroids, hormones, vitamins, visual pigments or fragrances, to transduce signals in the brain, to recognize antigens, and so on. Using their new co-factor, and resulting artificial protein, Matile and Ward’s groups collaborated to create the first “anion-π” enzyme, where that electron-rich molecular plane is replaced by an electron-poor plane to stabilize a negative rather than a positive charge during a molecular transformation. In a test tube, proteins with this new-to-nature functionality were able to outperform traditional organic catalysts in an important but  unfavourable addition reaction with high specificity and selectivity. They believe their approach can be moved to work in cells and can help make other currently impossible chemical transformations a reality. 

The authors acknowledge funding from the National Centres of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Molecular Systems Engineering and in Chemical Biology, the University of Geneva, the University of Basel and the European Research Council.

Read more here (in German).

New Head NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering

New Head NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering: Thomas R. Ward (University of Basel).

For health reasons, Prof. Wolfgang Meier transferred the leadership of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering in March 2016 to Prof. Thomas R. Ward of the University of Basel. Wolfgang Meier will pursue his research at the University of Basel and within this NCCR.

Thomas R. Ward now heads the directorate of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering, together with co-director Prof. Daniel Müller from ETH Zurich.

More about the NCCR-Directors here.

Head NCCR obtains ERC grant

Prof. Thomas Ward (University of Basel) obtained an ERC advanced grant to realize his DrEAM: the Directed Evolution of Artificial Metalloenzymes in vivo. Read more here (in German).

Insulin on demand

The Fussenegger-Group makes the headlines with cells that produce insulin on demand: Swiss-TV featured a clip in the news (10 vor 10) and Spiegel Online an article in their science section (both in German). Read their publication here.

New NCCR-PIs

NEW PI Konrad Tiefenbacher will start on 1 June 2016.

Prof. Konrad Tiefenbacher becomes the new assistant professor (tenure track) for the Synthesis of Functional Modules for the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering.

The call for Konrad Tiefenbacher is the second of three assistant professorships for this NCCR, to be jointly hosted by the University of Basel and ETH Zurich.

Tiefenbacher (36) was born in Vienna (Austria) where he also studied chemistry at the “Technischen Universität Wien”. During his postdoc years, he researched molecular recognition and self-assembly at the Scripps Institute in La Jolla (USA). 

Since 2011 he has been a junior professor for organic chemistry at TU Munich where he currently focuses on supramolecular cages as catalytic nanoreactors for chemical transformations. He started his professorship at the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science of the University of Basel on 1 June 2016.

More about Michael Nash: See the Unibasel-website.

Michael Nash: Professor for the engineering of synthetic systems.

Prof. Michael Nash becomes the new assistant professor (tenure track) for the engineering of synthetic systems for the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering.

The call for Michael Nash is the first of three assistant professorships for this NCCR to be jointly hosted by the University of Basel and ETH Zurich.

Nash (33) was born in Milwaukee (Wisconsin, USA) and started his professorship at the Department of Chemistry in the Faculty of Science at the University of Basel on 1 September 2016. As leader of an interdisciplinary research group at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich he currently focuses on cellulosomal nano-material and the physics of single molecules.

He graduated in 2011 in bioengineering and nanotechnology from the University of Washington, Seattle. His main research interest is developing functional, nanobiological tools for molecular mechanisms in order to build multi-enzyme systems.

More about Michael Nash: See the Unibasel-website.

Dr. Randall J. Platt, formerly postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at Harvard University, Cambridge (USA), is now Tenure Track Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering at the D-BSSE.

Randall Platt (*1987) works at the intersection of synthetic biology and neurobiology, focusing on developing molecular technologies to understand and treat genetic diseases. Previously he established methods for in vivo genome engineering and has conducted pioneering work on modelling genetic disorders. The technologies he has created have been distributed to hundreds of academic and industry laboratories where it is now being used around the world. Randall Platt is holding joint professorships at ETH Zurich and the University of Basel.

Biocomputer "selects" drugs

Researchers led by Prof. Yaakov Benenson at D-BSSE of ETH Zurich have developed a biological computer that can speed up the development of therapeutic drugs and reduce cost. Read the publication in Nature Communications and the media release.

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Events

Find all relevant dates in the Event Program 2016, in our newsletter MOLEKULAR-ia (issue February 2016, Vol. 2), and read our website for public events.

About Molecular Systems Engineering

Read more about Molecular Systems Engineering, molecular factories and practical applications.

More Information

More news and information can be found in our media releases, while the scientific publications formally document the progress in research.

Also read the articles and listen to the broadcasts on and about this NCCR issued by various publications.

If you have any questions, just ask us or visit our public events SeminBar (lectures at the bar, in English) and "Basar Molekular - the Talk" (our discussion event between public figures, the audience and leading scientists, that takes place in German).

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