Molecular Systems Engineering

A paradigm shift focusing on molecular factories, cellular systems and the improvement of health.

Nanotechnology is the medicine of the future

© Sph

Nanotechnology represents the future of personalised medicine, especially in treating diseases like cancer, says Prof. Cornelia Palivan. What can the technology do, and how close does it come to science fiction scenarios?
> Read more (in German)

Nasal cartilage relieves osteoarthritis in the knee

Photo: University of Basel, Christian Flierl

Cartilage cells from the nasal septum can not only help repair cartilage injuries in the knee – according to researchers from the Martin group, they can also withstand the chronic inflammatory tissue environment in osteoarthritis and even counteract the inflammation.
> Read more (in German)

Harnessing cells with external nanocompartments expands their metabolic repertoire

In nature, compartmentalization is essential to control the communication inside cells and between them in order to support their metabolism. Taking inspiration from natural small compartments named organelles that are present inside cells, researchers in the Palivan group developed a variety of synthetic compartments loaded with enzymes. These compartments are able to support complex reactions and mimic the communication between natural organelles aiming to expand the potential of cells.
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COVID-22 could be even worse

Because of SARS-CoV-2 Delta, every unvaccinated person is a potential superspreader. But there is more trouble ahead: can a variant that is far more dangerous emerge? - An interview with NCCR MSE Project Leader Sai Reddy in German or French.

Gene therapy restores partial vision to a blind patient

Image: Daniil Kuzelev, unsplash

A blind patient has partially regained visual function. This was achieved through optogenetic therapy, which aims to treat inherited diseases of the photoreceptors within the eye. The accomplishment led by the Roska group and published in Nature Medicine, represents an important step in the treatment of genetically determined blindness.
> Read more (in German)

Designing better antibody drugs with artificial intelligence

Visualisations: Shutterstock

Antibodies are not only produced by our immune cells to fight viruses and other pathogens in the body. For a few decades now, medicine has also been using antibodies produced by biotechnology as drugs. However, developing such antibody drugs is anything but simple. Now, researchers from the Reddy and Correia groups have developed a machine learning method that help to optimise the development of antibody drugs. This leads to active substances with improved properties, also with regard to tolerability in the body.
> Read more (in German)

Cells as computers

Photograph: Colourbox / Montage: Gidon Wessner

Scientists from the Benenson group are working to develop information-​processing switching systems in biological cells. Now, for the first time, they have developed an OR switch in human cells that reacts to different signals creating artificial genetic programs that work in much the same way as electronic systems. Such reprogrammed cells could perform medical tasks in our bodies, such as diagnosing diseases or providing treatment.
> Read more (in German)

Thomas Ward awarded the 2021 ACS Catalysis Lectureship

Thomas Ward, Director of NCCR MSE and professor of bioinorganic chemistry at the University of Basel receives the 2021 ACS Catalysis Lectureship for the Advancement of Catalytic Science for his development of artificial metalloenzymes for biocatalysis and synthetic biology.
> Read more (in German)

Boosting the potential of engineered metalloenzymes

Replacing mineral oil-​based chemistry with bio-​engineered alternatives plays a key role in the establishment of a sustainable economy. A promising research area in synthetic biology are artificial enzymes containing metal ions, so-​called metalloenzymes. A research alliance between the Panke and Ward groups paves the way to systematically engineer such artificial metalloenzymes to tap their full potential for bioproduction.
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Proteins à la carte expand beyond Nature's repertoire

© 2020 EPFL

NCCR MSE scientists from the Correia and Fussenegger groups have developed a new computational method to design artificial proteins with functions that are not found in nature. Their research has been published in Nature Chemical Biology.
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A sulfur molecule to block the coronavirus


Some viruses can get inside cells via a mechanism that involves sulfur organic molecules. Chemists in the Matile group have discovered effective inhibitors and blocked the uptake of SARS-CoV-2. The study, published in Chemical Science, paves the way for research into new antivirals.
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An artificial cell on a chip

Researchers from the Palivan and Meier group have developed a precisely controllable system for mimicking biochemical reaction cascades in cells. Using microfluidic technology, they produce miniature polymeric reaction containers equipped with the desired properties. This "cell on a chip" is useful not only for studying processes in cells, but also for the development of new synthetic pathways for chemical applications or for biological active substances in medicine.
> Read more (in German)

EL and Us: art book out now!

The story about the compelling collaboration between Michel Comte and our NCCR has just been published by STEIDL, one of the leading players amongst the global art publishing houses.
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Ralf's corner: Clint - an early Christmas carol

I don’t remember exactly when I first noticed it, it must have been close to two years ago or so. And since then, every so often on my way to our labs I look down at the entrance door of the chemistry department just to check if it is still there. It is. It hasn’t (been) moved since day one.
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Scientists and artists co-create at the Locarno Film Festival

Imagine an experiment that involves scientists and no lab. In fact, this experiment required five scientists to leave their NCCR MSE labs and mix with very different people in a quite alien environment. What happens when you transpose scientists from their "natural habitat" to a Film Festival’s artistic residence for ten days?
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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in Switzerland, NCCR MSE joined forces with all the other NCCRs to introduce you to some of the women working in Swiss research institutes.

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Beatrice Trussardi visits NCCR’s Art of Molecule

Beatrice Trussardi, who recently launched a nomadic art foundation in Switzerland, visited the NCCR MSE on 20 September 2021. Trussardi was keen to learn about NCCR’s own ethics project “Art of Molecule” which over the past 7 years has initiated numerous art-science projects.
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Maria Pomiansky wins the Swiss Art Awards 2021

Only few artists reflect the tremendous potential of ArtSci cooperations as convincingly as Maria Pomiansky and her work. Maria was nominated for the Swiss Art Awards for three paintings of hers including one depicting a working scene of two NCCR MSE PhD researchers in one of our labs; and in September 2021 during Art Basel, it was announced that Maria won the Swiss Art Awards!
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BaseCamp: between film, art and science

Five young NCCR MSE researchers have participated in the Locarno Film Festival’s "Basecamp Laboratory of Ideas".

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Should we engineer life?

Advances in gene- and cell-based therapies could help improve the diagnosis and treatment of disease, but is the public comfortable with the idea of molecular factories that could effectively engineer life? Can engineering life lead us into a better future? This question takes centre stage in EL & Us, Michel Comte’s upcoming art installation and public art-science project.
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Ralf's corner: "Let there be light!"

According to the creation report in the book of Genesis those were the very first words God spoke into our direction. But who knows, maybe he recited that same ‘ol line during different galaxies’ creation parties as well. The universe is big enough for sure and considering what Obama recently said about aliens (no, not about Trump) we might have a case here.
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Scientific Excellence and Equality – a Contradiction?

Prof. Tom Welton discusses current academic, structural and institutional challenges universities face today to promote equality while assuring that a high level of scientific excellence is maintained.

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Welcome, Effy!

NCCR MSE is welcoming Effy Vayena, professor of Bioethics at the ETH Zurich. Effy will focus on the ethical aspects of our research through an interdisciplinary approach which fosters both theoretical and empirical methods.
You can listen to Effy's view on the ethical questions digital contact tracing is raising during the current COVID-19 pandemic and why she is optimistic that digital technologies can help reduce the speed at which the virus spreads.
> Podcast with Effy Vayena

Online professional coaching

NCCR MSE is offering online professional coaching for free to all NCCR members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Just contact Hala Helmy, who is a professional BSO certified coach and supervisor with over 10 years of work experience.

The focus should be on the individual, not on their gender

"From birth onward, the focus should be on the individual, not on ascribing them to a gender."

Read a captivating interview with educational researcher Elena Makarova from the University of Basel about gender equality in the school system, which directly affects equality in the working world.
> Read more (in German)

Bullying in science and what to do about it

Bullying in science can take on many forms, and its more widespread than generally known. Read more about bullying in research, and what you can do about it by recognizing what’s really going on, enlist support, and be kind to yourself.
> Bullying in science
> Being bullied? Here’s what to do

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Locarno Talks la Mobiliare

On August 16, 2019 NCCR MSE staged one of the three "Locarno Talks la Mobiliare" and discussed "The ethical challenges of engineering life and the effects on human identity".

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Lab Concerto

Our public Lab Concerto series premiered in 2019 in the chemistry labs at the University of Basel. The argovia philharmonic classical quartett played works by Händel, Britten, Tscherepnin, Dukas a.o. to an audience which had arrived from all over Switzerland. In between, our young researchers Alina Stein and Jaicy Vallapurackal showed some exciting lab experiments which helped our audience to better understand the research goals of the NCCR MSE.

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Maestro Method

"Maestro Method" is an out of the lab learning tool for our young as well as our experienced scientists. The idea behind it is that by gaining insight into work processes and methodological approaches implemented successfully by non-scientists we may enhance and improve our own professional skills.

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SRF Interview with Ralf Stutzki

Ralf Stutzki, Head Ethics, on scientific misconduct and integrity in research (in German).

SRF Interview with Benjamin Gaub

Watch the interview with NCCR MSE fellow Benjamin Gaub from the Müller group talking about vision restoration in the SRF 1 show gesundheitheute.

Sound of Molecules – I. fiddle (with)

This audio-visual production represents a milestone in the on-going cooperation between NCCR MSE and argovia philharmonic and a most unusual communication tool meant to stimulate the societal debate about the ethical challenges of synthetic biology.

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Lynn Hershman Leeson visits the NCCR MSE

American artist and filmmaker Lynn Hershman Leeson has long studied the relationship between technological innovation and human identity. For her latest project she visited the NCCR MSE on October 27 to discuss art and its role in bridging the gap between science and the public.

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Art of Molecule

Take a look at the projects exploring new horizons at the interface between science and art.