Molecular Systems Engineering

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

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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Bacteria with recording function capture gut health status

Visualizations: Adobe Stock / ETH Zurich

Researchers from the Platt group, University Hospital of Bern and the University of Bern have equipped gut bacteria with data logger functionality as a way of monitoring which genes are active in the bacteria. These microorganisms could one day offer a noninvasive means of diagnosing disease or assessing the impact of a diet on health.
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Biased signalling for better drugs

Concept of biased signalling. (Image: Paul Scherrer Institute/Philipp Berger)

A dream drug would provide a targeted therapeutic effect without side effects. Biased signalling, whereby certain cellular signalling pathways are favoured over others, could make this a reality. Now, PSI researchers associated with NCCR MSE have created a platform for biased signalling-based drug discovery.
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Wen-Do course for female PhD students/Postdocs

As part of our equal opportunity activities the NCCR MSE organized a Wen-Do course for female PhD students/Postdocs. The first part of the course took place on 14th March 2023 and the second part is scheduled for the 28th March 2023. The participants enjoyed the possibility of practicing Wen-Do, talking about their personal experiences. One of the highlights of the course was smashing a two cm thick wooden board – a real booster to one’s self confidence!

There are still a couple of places available on 28th March, so feel free to join – just write an email to Hala Helmy (hala.helmy(at)!
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NCCR MSE invited to Locarno Film Festival 2023

Our Art of Molecule journey with the world renowned festival continues: for the fourth time in a row NCCR MSE will move into the "world capital of auteur cinema". Five young NCCR MSE researchers (PhD/Postdoc) will have the opportunity to participate in the Festival’s "Basecamp Laboratory of Ideas" and connect with 150 audio-visual creatives from all over the world.
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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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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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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.

Merchandise Shop

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