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Slovenian ERC Grantee talks about cells that trick the brain

30 Aug 2017

EMUNI, in cooperation with the Institute Jožef Štefan organised on 30 August 2017 a networking opportunity and a lecture by Dr. Jernej Ule, who is a double ERC-grantee from Slovenia. Young researchers had the chance to listen to main findings of Dr. Ule's research group, focussing on RNA in cells to understand how these proteins act and hear about new methods that opened a new window into the diverse mechanisms that enable cells to regulate their gene expression. The lecture was combined by a networking reception, where participants could discuss with the ERC grantee on the  ways to access European funds for cutting edge research and acquire advice on how to achieve such grants.

Who is Jernej Ule?

Jernej obtained his BSc in Molecular Biology from University of Ljubljana, Slovenia, in 1999, and PhD in Molecular Neuroscience from Rockefeller University, New York, in 2004, where he also pursued a two-year postdoctoral project. He started his research group at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in 2006, in April 2013 moved with his group to the UCL Institute of Neurology, and in August 2016 started a 5-year secondment in The Francis Crick Institute. He serves on the editorial board of Genome Biology, is an EMBO fellow and a reviewer at many journals.

This event is organised in the framework of the project ERC=Science², a pan-European communications campaign using popular scientific themes such as ‘cities of the future’ or ‘robotics’ to highlight the scientific research funded by the European Research Council and the potential impact it can have on society. Led by Science|Business and in association with seven partners each bringing their own unique areas of expertise, the campaign which will last 42 months aims to reach and interest European and international audiences through the use of traditional web-based and social media but also more novel and innovative carriers of information, such as augmented reality, modules of graphic design, professional journalistic “snowfall” articles, science fairs and more.


Abstract of the lecture

Tricks that our cells use to express their genes in the brain, and how aging affects this

Jernej Ule, The Francis Crick Institute and UCL Institute of Neurology, London, UK

Each RNA in our cells is coated by dozens, if not hundreds of RNA-binding proteins. To understand how these proteins act in our cells, we obtain detailed maps of their RNA binding sites. For this purpose, we developed the nucleotide-resolution UV crosslinking and immunoprecipitation (iCLIP) and a related method called hybrid iCLIP (hiCLIP), which identify protein-RNA and RNA-RNA contacts. I will describe how these methods opened a new window into the diverse mechanisms that enable cells to regulate their gene expression.

Mutations in genes encoding RNA-binding proteins can cause motor neuron disease, an age-related neurodegenerative disease. We wish to understand how the cause of this disease is linked to the process of aging in human brain. For this purpose, we characterized gene expression across 10 human brain regions from 480 individuals ranging in age from 16 to 106. We found that the fate of each cell type and each brain region is affected by aging, but in different ways. I will discuss the role that protein-RNA complexes play in regulating such changes in cellular fates, and how this could be important for motor neuron disease.

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