Molecular Systems Engineering

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

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.
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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)

Cells on the run

Image: Lomakin et al. Science

Many cells in the body must pass through tissue, which sometimes requires them to get out of tight corners. An international research team co-​led by NCCR Co-Director Daniel Müller has now examined how cells recognise and escape from such bottlenecks. Among the results of the team’s work are new pointers for how to improve immunotherapy. The results were published in the journal Science.
> Read more (in German)

Artificial human retinas

Image: University of Basel, Suren Manvelyan

NCCR MSE scientists from the Roska and Scholl groups have succeeded in growing accurate replicas of human retinas that can be used to pinpoint the specific types of cells affected by genetic eye diseases. This achievement will accelerate progress in developing individual therapies. The research was reported in Cell and is a collaborative effort of scientists from the University of Basel, the Institute for Molecular and Clinical Ophthalmology Basel, and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research.
> Read more (in German)

Bioactive nano-capsules to hijack cell behavior

Many diseases are caused by defects in signaling pathways of body cells. In the future, bioactive nanocapsules could become a valuable tool for medicine to control these pathways. Researchers from the Palivan group have taken an important step in this direction: They succeed in having several different nanocapsules work in tandem to amplify a natural signaling cascade and influence cell behavior.
> Read more (in German)

NCCR MSE invited to Locarno Film Festival 2021

Our Art of Molecule journey with the world renowned festival continues: for the second time in a row NCCR MSE will move into the "world capital of auteur cinema". Five young researchers (PhD/Postdoc) from the University of Basel and ETHZ have been invited to participate in the 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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"Let there be light!" – Ralf's corner

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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To celebrate the 50th anniversary of women obtaining the right to vote in Switzerland, NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering joined forces with all the other National Centres of Competences in Research to introduce you to some of the women working in Swiss research institutes.

Follow us on YouTube and Instagram and the hashtag #NCCRWomen​ and meet women who work in research in Switzerland.
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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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Good night, John-Boy – Ralf's corner

Last year's x-mas gift to my wife was really a huge success: I bought her the CRISPR gene editing kit "DNA Playground for the whole family" which enabled us to secretly inject the GFP-Jellifish gene into our neighbor’s 31 Koi. This led to a very favorable and warm 24/7 green color illumination of his backyard (and to a trial still pending - but that’s another story).
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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

DeepCDR Biologics gets venture capital and entrepreneurial training

DeepCDR Biologics, a spinn-off from the Reddy group focusing on novel discovery workflows that combine drug screening in mammalian cells with deep learning to generate thousands of optimized lead candidates for therapeutic antibodies, has received venture capital and entrepreneurial training from Venture Kick.
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Robert Waterman on spirituality and science

"Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a Spirit is manifest in the Laws of the Universe—a Spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we, with our modest powers, must feel humble.” — Albert Einstein

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Merchandise Shop

Check out our official merchandise shop and add some more NCCR MSE to your life!
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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.