ResearchPublished on 03.06.2020

SINERGIA projects awarded in the department

Sinergia is a program of the Swiss National Science Fund that supports ambitious collaborative projects between two to four groups in Switzerland and abroad, on breakthrough research. Obtaining Sinergia funding is remarkable because the competition is high, and interdisciplinary collaborations are often challenging to set up.

Four successful UniFr professors, Jörn Dengjel and Stefano Vanni in biology, Ralph Müller in German studies and Christian Mazza in mathematics, have been selected among the tough competition and will be granted funding for their research.

Project of Prof. Jörn Dengjel

Jörn Dengjel, along with Fulvio Reggiori (Department of Biomedical Sciences of Cells and Systems, University Medical Center Groningen, The Netherlands) and Mattia Zampieri (Institute of Molecular Systems Biology, ETH Zurich, Switzerland) will investigate the role of autophagy in regulating metabolism using yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae and human cell cultures as models. Indeed, Jörn explains that “autophagy is a cellular recycling pathway that is often found dysregulated in disease. It is critical for cellular stress resistance by degrading complex biomolecules generating building blocks for biosynthesis and as energy source. Autophagy was regarded as non-selective bulk degradation pathway, but lately it was found to also specifically remove single proteins”. How autophagy specifically degrades proteins reshaping metabolism is largely unknown and that is the focus of Jörn and his colleagues in their Sinergia project.

Project of Prof. Stefano Vanni

Stefano Vanni, along with Robbie Loewith and Aurelien Roux (University of Geneva) and Ruben Fernandez-Busnadiego (University of Göttingen) will investigate the mechanism behind TORC (Target Of Rapamycin Complex) regulation using a combination of molecular biology, biophysics, cell biology and molecular dynamics simulations. Stefano explains that “TOR is a protein kinase that functions in feedback loops to regulate homeostasis in eukaryote cells. To execute its functions, TOR assembles in two distinct, membrane-associated complexes, TORC1 and TORC2. In humans, dysregulation of these complexes is associated with terrible diseases including metabolic syndromes and cancer. Recently, it has been shown that the inhibition of TORC1 and TORC2 activities is, again unexpectedly, mediated by their assembly into huge condensates. Building on these recent and exciting news, we now wish to see if these yeast-based observations can be extended to mammalian TOR where they could potentially be exploited for novel therapeutic interventions”. The outcome of this work will be a molecular understanding of a fundamental disease-associated signaling network.

For more information on SINERGIA, please visit the official website