Molecular Systems Engineering

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

Cells with an ear for music release insulin

Image: Keystone SDA / Science Photo Library. Montage: Katja Schubert

"We will rock you": NCCR MSE researchers from the Fussenegger group are developing a gene switch that triggers insulin release in designer cells by playing certain rock and pop songs. The insulin-​producing designer cells were equipped with an ion channel of a bacterium that reacts to mechanical stimuli like sound waves.
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In memory of Wolfgang Meier

Image: Macromolecular Rapid Communications

A special issue commemorating Wolfgang Meier, who had significant contributions in the fields of amphiphilic copolymer syntheses and their hierarchical self-assembly, block copolymer vesicles (so-called polymersomes), and hybrid membranes has been published jointly by Macromolecular Rapid Communications and Macromolecular Bioscience.
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Ethical considerations of human stem cell-derived embryo models

A day 8 stem cell-derived mouse embryo with developing brain and heart regions.
Image credit: Kasey Lau for the Zernicka-Goetz laboratory

Human pluripotent stem cells can be used to derive in vitro models recapitulating post-implantation human embryos. While useful for research purposes, such integrated embryo models raise ethical issues that need to be addressed to facilitate ethically appropriate policies and regulations that permit scientific ingenuity and medical progress. A perspective written by Alessandro Blasimme from the Vayena group.
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Under control to the very end – how our cells kill themselves

Image: Biozentrum, University Basel

Every day, millions of cells die in our body. Other than generally assumed, cells do not simply burst at the end of their lives but rather, a specific protein serves as a breaking point for cell membrane rupture. As part of a larger initiative,  researchers from the Müller group have now been able to elucidate the exact mechanism at the atomic level. They have published their results in the journal Nature.
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Detailed image of the human retina

Image: Wahle et al. Nature Biotechnology 2023

Researchers from Basel and Zurich, including the NCCR MSE groups of Treutlein, Roska and Scholl are creating a high-​resolution atlas that depicts the development of the human retina. One technique they use is a new method that allows them to visualise more than 50 proteins simultaneously. The results have been published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.
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New embryonic brain circuit discovered

Image: IOB

Researchers in the Roska group have identified a new brain circuit in mouse embryos that develops at an unexpectedly early stage. Their findings may provide new insights into circuit abnormalities in autism. The results have been published in the journal Cell.
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Generating power with blood sugar

Photograph: Fussenegger Lab / ETH Zurich

A fuel cell under the skin that converts blood sugar from the body into electrical energy sounds like science fiction. Yet it works perfectly, as the NCCR MSE research team led by Martin Fussenegger has shown. This allows the use of excess metabolic energy to produce electricity to power biomedical devices. When combined with artificial, insulin-​releasing beta cells, the system produces insulin at the touch of a button and effectively lowers blood glucose levels.
> Read more (in German)

A DNA-Micropatterned Surface for Propagating Biomolecular Signals

Researchers in the Palivan group have developed a reusable biomolecular signaling platform comprising catalytic nanocompartments whose geometrical arrangement enabled effective communication. The chip promoted transfer of signals between neighboring nanocompartments and thereby triggered a complex cascade reaction (DNA synthesis, inorganic pyrophosphate (PPi), and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) production) that ultimately produced light. The simple removal and reloading of catalytic compartments rendered the platform suitable for multiple cycles of cascade reactions. Such polymer-based nano-compartment assemblies offer an ideal scaffold for the development of the next generation responsive and communicative soft-matter analytical devices for applications in catalysis and medicine.
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Barbara Treutlein receives renowned Friedrich Miescher Award

Barbara Treutlein, NCCR MSE Project Leader and Head of the Quantitative Developmental Biology Lab at the D-​BSSE, will be awarded the Friedrich Miescher Award 2023. The prize is Switzerland’s highest distinction for scientists under 40 working in the field of biochemistry.
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"Hard" and "soft" nanoobjects asymmetrically tied together by DNA

Researchers in the Palivan group have developed a strategy for the controlled self-organization of disparate nanoobjects into hybrid clusters as a new type of material at nano-scale. These clusters uniquely combine "hard" asymmetric nanoparticles, named Janus nanoparticles, with "soft" vesicles by using DNA as linkers. The "hard" Janus nanoparticles direct the self-organisation of the clusters whilst the “soft” vesicles serve for loading of desired cargos promoting bio-applications.
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Locarno Film Festival 2023

Image: Locarno Film Festival

In 2019, when we came up with the idea of connecting young systems engineering scientists with 250 international artists during the Locarno Film Festival's BaseCamp, we had no idea of the impact this collaboration would have on both the festival and our NCCR MSE.
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"Engineering Life" symposium at the Swiss Embassy in London

Together with the Embassy of Switzerland in the UK our NCCR MSE organized a Symposium about "Engineering Life - State of the Art and Ethical Challenges“ - held on Tuesday, 20 June 2023, at the Embassy in London.
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Art of Molecule revisited

Beatrice Trussardi, president of the Trussardi Foundation in Milano and Federico Roveda, CEO of Prima Lab SA in Ticino visited our NCCR MSE again to learn more about the state of the art of Engineering Life research and the
#ArtofMolecule ethics framework. The visitors were welcomed by NCCR MSE director Thomas R. Ward and Head Ethics Ralf Stutzki.
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ICEEL Ethics Statement

New biotechnologies are becoming more viable and have the potential to affect the lives of millions of people around the world. Issues emerging from their development may be considered under two main perspectives: the need i) for researchers and, more broadly, all the stakeholders involved in the translation from the lab to the real world to be aware of the ethical, legal, and political implications; and ii) to foster dialogue with the public on these implications. In this regard, it is crucial to inform citizens properly about these new technologies and their ethical implications. Equally important, all stakeholders must take into consideration citizens’ worries, doubts, and real needs to foster clarity and trust between them and the scientific community with respect to these delicate scientific developments.
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AoM Podcast: Roald Hoffmann

Chemistry Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann visited Switzerland in May 2022 giving a series of scientific lectures, and also presenting the world premiere of "Alchemy", a melodrama written by him together with Austrian composer Oliver Peter Graber.

In this podcast, Roald Hoffmann reveals some very personal episodes from his life which began in 1937 in his (then Polish) birthplace Złoczów and after World War II led to emigration to the United States.
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Ralf's corner: More experts, please!

According to my 600 Euro smart watch I passed away three days ago somewhere between 1:51 AM and 3:20 AM. During that time span - I was sound asleep and do not recall any exciting dreams - my heartbeat rate (bpm) apparently exceeded 220 permanently and reached an all-time high of 300 beats per minute, prompting my online health data collection app to celebrate my passing by sending me an Email with a bouquet of flowers emoji: "Congratulations, Ralf! You have reached a milestone! 💐".
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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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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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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.

Paving the way towards more women in leading academic positions

Why do we lose female talents in top positions in the academia? What can we do to avoid this loss? What are the possible solutions and what are the advice of female group leaders? Achieving gender Equality and diversity in the Natural Sciences: The leaky pipeline phenomenon summarized in a new short video!

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Alchemy - World première

On May 6, 2022, NCCR MSE together with an audience of 100 guests witnessed an extraordinary world première of an opera written by Chemistry Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann (libretto) and Austrian composer Oliver Peter Graber.

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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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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.