April 16, 2014

Science and success: young researchers at IST Austria

Postdocs and PhD students in several groups at IST Austria recently published insights from their research and received prizes for their work.

Postdoc Alvaro Ingles-Prieto receives a Dan David scholarship endowed with $15’000 by the Dan David Foundation. Each year, the Dan David foundation awards ten scholarships to doctoral and postdoctoral researchers at universities around the world, and ten to researchers at Tel Aviv University.  Dan David scholarships support promising projects corresponding to a chosen theme with a focus on the past, present or future. The theme for 2014 is memory, with the variants of Past – history and memory, Present – combatting memory loss, and Future – artificial intelligence, the digital mind. Alvaro Ingles-Prieto carries out his research in synthetic biology in the group of Harald Janovjak at IST Austria. In his project that won a Dan David scholarship in the field Present – combatting memory loss, Alvaro Ingles-Prieto designs light-controlled proteins to restore learning and memory in animal models of Alzheimer’s disease.

Jose Guzman and Alois Schlögl, researchers in the group of Peter Jonas at IST Austria, together with Christoph Schmidt-Hieber at University College London, present Stimfit, a free application for quantifying electrophysiological data. To understand how information is processed in the brain, researchers need to accurately measure and quantify neuronal communication. Stimfit, a free cross-platform software package for cellular neurophysiology, contains fast algorithms to measure and analyze the electrical signals used by neurons to communicate. It currently focuses on signals obtained with patch-clamp techniques, but the researchers aim to extend the program to extracellular and imaging data. Stimfit is scriptable in Python, a platform widely used in neuroscience. Stimfit was presented in frontiers in Neuroinformatics, and is released under the GNU General Public License at www.stimfit.org. The support and infrastructure provided by the IT division of IST Austria contributed to this project.

Urszula Kania, PhD student in the group of Jiři Friml at IST Austria, is lead author of a review on cell polarity in Open Biology, an open access biology journal by the Royal Society. Plants and animals lead fundamentally different lives in vastly different bodies. Nevertheless, plants and animals are similar on the cellular level, and cell polarization is vital for tissue organization in both. Many factors, both genetic and environmental, interact to generate polarity. In their review, authors Urszula Kania, Matyáš Fendrych and Jiři Friml compare the molecular toolkit for polarization in plants and animals. In plants, this toolkit centers around ROP GTPases while in animals, PAR proteins are the main players in the polarization of epithelial cells. Additionally, the authors survey the methods used for analyzing polarity in plants.