Human of #univie Sonja: Understanding the waste collection in our cells

Molecular biology deals with the processes inside our cells and aims to discover which molecules play a role in these processes. These molecules include ions, compounds of some atoms and comparatively huge proteins. How can these small substances be responsible both for moving our body and producing energy from food, on the one hand, and for the development of diseases, on the other? These are questions that fascinate me in the master’s programme in Molecular Biology.

One mechanism caused by the interaction between different molecules in our cells is autophagy. You may know this term from intermittent fasting and – if the process does not go according to plan – as a cause for diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. Or you may have heard of autophagy because the researcher who discovered it was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2016. Autophagy is often called the ‘waste collection in our cells’. Any materials that the cell does not need any more are degraded and recycled. In my master’s thesis, I try to copy parts of this process to better understand which proteins and molecules are involved in it.

Of course, I cannot do that at my desk at home – for my master’s thesis, I carry out research at the Vienna Biocenter in the laboratory of Sascha Martens. I had practical laboratory courses already during my studies, but working in a ‘real laboratory’, where researchers produce new insights that help us understand our body, is very special indeed. I can hardly believe that I will earn my money doing this type of work some day. Research does not feel like work to me. It rather feels like an adventure and I constantly discover new things. Of course, also on an adventure there are always bumps in the road, but in a true team it is easier to cope with them and through discussions we keep discovering new paths together over and over again. My journey in the world of research has only just begun: In June, I will start my doctoral studies as part of the Vienna BioCenter PhD programme and I will continue to investigate the topic of autophagy. So, off to the next adventure with the pipette in hand!” – Sonja Achleitner

Sonja is studying molecular biology at the University of Vienna.

P.S.: The editorial team of the Rudolphina Magazine has visited Sonja and her colleagues in their laboratory at the Vienna Biocenter. Read our reportage “Hoping that we can soon forget about Alzheimer’s” to find out more about autophagy.

 



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