Experience reports about research stays supported by the Mobility Fund

Florian Schwanke

Research stay in the Plant Immunity laboratory of Prof. Yusuke Saijo at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Ikoma, Japan, 2017

End of 2017 I went to the Plant Immunity laboratory of Prof. Yusuke Saijo at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Ikoma, Japan to visit Dr. Kei Hiruma who had a successful collaborative project with CEPLAS in the past. The research stay was a part of my master course Biological Sciences at the University of Cologne. I had the pleasure to study the behavior of the Arabidopsis thaliana co-receptor BAK1 upon infection with different Colletotrichum species. Although the time of my stay in Japan was limited to three months, I was able to improve my working skills and gain new insights into the molecular interaction of Colletotrichum fungi and the plant immune system. I was able to confirm the fact that BAK1 is depleted upon infection with pathogenic and beneficial Colletotrichum species. In order to investigate the molecular mechanism of BAK1 depletion and to reveal factors which are involved, I screened A. thaliana accessions for candidates which show a disrupted depletion. I ended my work after finding two interesting accession candidates.

For me personally, it was an important experience and a great success to work in a laboratory abroad. It was interesting to observe my own process of adaptation to the new environment and the given circumstances. From the beginning to the end of my stay, I felt heartily welcomed by my colleagues and in addition to establishing new contacts, I made new friends. Apart from the daily routine in the laboratory, I took the opportunity to discover Japan and its kindly and welcoming inhabitants. It was a great experience to get to know such a multifarious country with breathtaking nature, a rich history, the syncretism of two religions, unique subcultures, preciseness and etiquette.
I am very pleased to have had this experience and I am thankful that CEPLAS provided the funding for my stay. Furthermore, I would particularly like to thank Prof. Alga Zuccaro and Prof. Marcel Bucher for supporting and strengthening me in my intention for this research stay.

If you are interested in the research of an international laboratory and if your principal investigator supports your purpose, I strongly recommend the CEPLAS Mobility Fund.

Photos provided by Florian Schwanke

Anika Wiegard

Research stay in the lab of Prof. Kazuki Terauchi at Ritsumeikan University, Kusatsu-Shiga, Japan, 2017

Japan has a leading role in cyanobacterial circadian research. My host, Terauchi-sensei, discovered an oscillating ATPase activity of the clock protein KaiC from Synechococcus elongatus. To extend my biochemical characterization of diverged Kai proteins, I started a collaboration with Terauchi-sensei last year. Now, I had the pleasure to visit her lab again from June to August 2017. Applying chromatographic and electrophoretic techniques, I investigated the role of ATP hydrolysis and phosphorylation in a putatively complex network of multiple Kai proteins in Synechocystis. It was inspiring to integrate in another group and experience slight differences in e.g. handling of lab organization, way of working and discussing. I extended my scientific network by meeting local and international scientist, strongly fostering my interested in working abroad and engaging in different perspectives.

Besides, I had some time to discover impressive sites and places in e.g. Kyoto, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kagoshima. I also enjoyed the every-day life in Japan and discovered some unexpected skills. Who’d have guessed, that I would be able to use computers and machines displaying only japanese characters?

Many thanks to all colleagues and students who helped me with this and other problems in the lab, spent their free-time on enjoyable sight-seeing trips and tried to teach me Japanese language and culture. I want to particular thank Oyama-san, who additionally introduced me to new machines and methods and was always enthusiastic to discuss my project. Terauchi-sensei, thank you for your fruitful advices and for giving me the opportunity to improve my scientific and methodical competence in an inspiring research environment. Last but not least, thanks to CEPLAS and HeRA for funding of the research stay. どうもありがとうございました!

Photos provided by Anika Wiegard

Esther Sundermann

Research stay at the Systems Biology Research Group of Prof. Bernhard Palsson at the University of California, San Diego, USA, 2017 

I had the pleasure to visit the Systems Biology Research Group of Prof. Bernhard Palsson at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for a two-month research stay. This amazing opportunity allowed me to present my PhD project to a research group which is interested in model-predicted performance of various organisms in different environmental conditions. This allowed me to improve my project by fruitful discussions on the one hand with scientists which are experts in the field of modelling photosynthesis and on the other hand with researchers working in related fields. Furthermore, I learned more about various in silico methods, which were utilized in a wide range of applications including diatoms and their CO2 concentration mechanism. The research stay allowed me to learn more about theoretical and empirical approaches used in the Palsson group and additionally intensify an existing collaboration.

I also had the chance to explore San Diego and its wonderful surrounding. San Diego is a beautiful city with friendly and welcoming people, which offers a lot of activities. My personal highlight has been a weekend trip to the Anza-Borrego desert where I enjoy the blooming wild flowers and a magic sky at night.

I enjoyed my time in the research group of Prof. Bernhard Palsson and San Diego very much and I am very grateful for this opportunity which was enabled by the CEPLAS Mobility Fund.

Profile of Esther Sundermann

Photos provided by Esther Sundermann

Justin DuRant

DAAD-RISE research stay at Albani Group, University of Cologne, May-August 2017

This summer, I worked with Priyanka Mishra, a CEPLAS PhD student in the group of Jun. Prof. Maria Albani at the University of Cologne, studying adventitious rooting (ARing) in the perennial model organism Arabis alpina. I am currently pursuing degrees in music and in biological sciences at the University of South Carolina, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to travel to Germany that was provided by the DAAD-rise program and the CEPLAS mobility fund.

During my internship, we examined the natural variation of ARing in A. alpina and expression patterns of relevant genes. In short, we found evidence to support partial conservation of the molecular mechanisms regulating ARing in A. alpina with the model annual Arabidopsis thaliana. 

It has truly been a pleasure to collaborate with a dynamic lab group where everyone is working together towards a stronger understanding of the perennial growth habit using A. alpina. I have been able to expand my scientific network, learn interesting new methods, and meet some amazing new friends. In addition, I’ve enjoyed learning more about German culture both in and out of the workplace and spending time with people from all over the world. My desire to pursue a graduate degree abroad, particularly in Germany, has grown stronger this summer after experiencing the welcoming environment and the quality of German institutions firsthand.

Photos provided by Justin DuRant

Tabea Mettler-Altmann

Research stay at the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of California, USA, 2017

I had the pleasure to visit the laboratory of Sabeeha Merchant at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) in February and I am very grateful for the hospitably of the Merchant lab, particularly to Sabeeha herself, and the chances CEPLAS Mobility Fund gave me to visit UCLA. Sabeeha´s works focus on the dynamics of nitrogen, iron, copper, zinc and manganese metabolism in the green alga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. She also published the Chlamydomonas genome in 2007 and her lab holds the largest collection of RNAseq data for this organism. Beside extending the collaboration with the Merchant lab, which so far resulted in two Plant Cell publications, the aim of my visit was to work on manuscripts and proposals beyond my collaborative activities. UCLA offered me the perfect environment to do so! We also took the chance to work on one of our current collaboration and discovered novel common interest in phosphate metabolism, which we will explore in the future. Apart from great scientific inputs, it was very fruitful to be part of another lab for a couple of weeks and see their approaches of lab organisation and management. It was educating catching-up with postdoctoral fellows there and learn about the academic system in the US and explore our common grounds of commitment to sound science in algal research. Although LA had the most rain in years, I felt very warmly welcome!

Being in California already, I took the chance to shortly visit the San Francisco area. I had the great opportunity to talk to Arthur Grossman at Carnegie Institute about my most recent projects and got very valuable feedback. Arthur is another luminary in algal research. I was also delighted to meet Jeffrey Moseley, who introduced me to the newest activities of TerraVia, formerly Solazyme, a company located in South San Francisco. Diverged from the aim of producing biofuels, the company now focuses on the production of sophisticated raw materials from algae for industry, such as the high-quality oil “Thrive” for food industry.

Learn more about CEPLAS Plant Metabolism and Metabolomics Facility

Photos provided by Tabea Mettler-Altmann

Stephan Wawra

Research stay at the Cyril Zipfel Group in The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL), Norwich, UK, 2016

Research stay in the UK after the Brexit vote was still fun!

I had the pleasure of being able to visit the group of Cyril Zipfel in TSL in Norwich for a 10 weeks research stay. I was welcomed with great hospitality in the Zipfel lab and I am grateful for the guidance and input I received from all lab members. In particular, I have to thank Nick Holton for his specific input into my research and of course CEPLAS for the obtained mobility funds. The Zipfel group is renowned for its expertise in working with plant immune receptors, which was the perfect basis to start our collaborative work in obtaining plant receptor candidates for fungal β-glucan. The TSL offered the perfect environment to perform this task and in the end, we obtained a strong potential candidate that is currently being validated. Apart from the science, it was very fruitful to be part of another lab for some weeks and see their approaches to lab organization and management. Furthermore, staying at the JIC Research Park provided me with the chance to follow up existing and to start new collaborations with adjacent groups. The frequent seminar opportunities provided a good mixture of local speakers from within the JIC and excellent international guest speakers. This supported the feeling of education and learning which I had during my stay.
Despite the good scientific progress, there was always the dark cloud of Brexit looming in the head of all scientists I met. Most people expressed fear that future collaborations and joint funding opportunities are likely to be crippled by the decision made just a few weeks before I arrived.
On the plus side, Norwich is a very interesting city with a lot of medieval history, art and culture just a stone’s throw away from London. If you see the opportunity for an international collaboration that you want to pursue, I can definitely recommend applying to the CEPLAS mobility fund.

Photos provided by Stephan Wawra

Kumari Billakurthi

Research stay in the laboratory of Prof. Tammy Sage, Canada, 2016

I have been working on a project, which is aimed to identify Kranz anatomy mutants using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. We selected several mutants but couldn’t find the easiest way to characterize them here in Düsseldorf since our group is not an expertise in plant anatomy.  So I requested my mentor Prof. Peter Westhoff that I would like to work with our collaborative group Prof. Tammy Sage at University of Toronto to get an anatomical overview of the selected mutants, as they have good working skills in plant anatomy and great microscope facilities. Prof. P. Westhoff was happy about this and suggested to apply for CEPLAS mobility funding and I was lucky that application got approved.
I worked with Prof. T. Sage group for 3 months, from Oct-2016 to Dec-2016; colleagues are so friendly, kind to share their working skills and to help me out. It was a great experience, so happy that I have developed new working skills and was able to complete my project task within the limited time frame. While I am there, got opportunity to give a talk in Canadian Society of Plant Biology meeting (CSPB) and also attended R- programming classes, which is actually not part of my visit but it was an intensive course and of course in English so didn’t want to miss the chance.

I personally liked Toronto a lot because it is more internationalized, English speaking country so it was very easy to manage things as a short-term visitor and of course wonderful natural sight seeing places to spend your weekends. I am thankful to CEPLAS for supporting my stay and strongly recommend to apply for mobility fund if someone has interest to visit another lab in abroad and if your interest is Canada my suggestion is not to visit in winter.

Photos provided by Kumari Billakurthi

Profile of Kumari Billakurthi

Henning Frerigmann

Research stay at Prof. Dr. Kazuki Saito at RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science, Yokohama, Japan, 2015 

My CEPLAS mentor Dr. Peter Welters (Phytowelt GreenTechnologies GmbH) recommended me a research stay abroad for further personal development and additionally to facilitate my career in academia as well as in industry. I discussed therefore the opportunity for such a stay with relevant groups in my field and developed a working programme, which will provide new insights in my project. 

The Metabolomics research group of Prof. Kazuki Saito at the RIKEN institute (Yokohama, Japan) was willing to share their great facilities and offered cooperation with excellent researchers. Thus I applied last year for the CEPLAS mobility fund to perform a 3-month research stay in Japan. 

After some bureaucratic problems (it is not so easy to send transgenic seeds officially to Japan!) I joined the group in February 2015. The group has developed different pipelines for mass-spectrometry based measurements. Thus I could work with different people together and learned how they use these methods. During the seminars I became acquainted with their (sometimes) different approaches to solve scientific problems and could start new projects with cooperation partners. 

Beside the scientific development it was a great experience to live in Tokyo not as a tourist but as a “normal” citizen and to go every day with a really crowded train back from work. If you have the opportunity for such a stay I can definitely recommend applying for the CEPLAS mobility fund.

Profile of Henning Frerigmann

Heinrich Heine University
University of Cologne
Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
Forschungszentrum Jülich