Universiteit Utrecht   Universiteit Utrecht
Graduate School of Life Sciences  
Graduate School of Life Sciences
Master for Life Magazine
This magazine is intended for students and teachers and all other persons interested in the Life Sciences Community Utrecht.
The articles are written by Master’s students following the course Communicating Life Sciences taught by Connie Engelberts and facilitated by de Graduates School of Life Sciences.

•   Graduate School news   •   Bacteria vs. the gut
•   Palmitoylation and Coca-Cola cans   •   Prof. Hendrikse receives prestigious grant
•   Interview with a Life Science Student   •   A quick guide to combine a PhD with a baby
•   “A whole life studying”- They said    •   Agenda

Graduate School news

Deadline Honours programmes:/Select and QBio: December 1st
U/Select (Utrecht Selective Life Sciences ExtraCurricular Track) is the life sciences honours programme for selected students of the GSLS. It is a 2-year extracurricular programme, for excellent students who seek to broaden their horizon and want to get more out of their Master's programme. Interested? Deadline for application: December 1st. More information can be found here.

The honours programme Quantitative Biology offers students extra challenge in the field of Quantitative Biology and Computational Life Sciences. The programme is set up for students with a genuine interest in interdisciplinary work as it sets out to combine different scientific disciplines such as Biology, Biomedical Biology, Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Physics, Mathematics and Computer Sciences. Want to apply? Deadline for application: December 1st. More information can be found here.

Research Project Market
Are you arranging your research project and do you want to meet UU and UMCU research groups where you can perform your project? On Tuesday January 12th from 17:15-20:00h the research project market will be organised in the Kroonluchter. Want an impression of last year? You can find a it here.

Science for Life Conference
On the 9th of November the first Science for Life Conference will be organised. Science for Life harbours scientists with world-renowned reputations in their field of research and is a unique combination of experts from the four Life Sciences institutes of Utrecht University and accompanying industry that join their fundamental and strategic research capacities in the Life Sciences domain. The Science for Life conference will take place at the Jaarbeurs Utrecht. To find out more about the conference, please click here.

New Master's programme Bio Inspired Innovation
In September 2016 the new two-year Master’s programme Bio Inspired Innovation (BII) will start. BII offers an unique programme by combining science and inspiration from nature with design to come up with sustainable processes and to ensure future food supply. More information about BII is available here.

Student representation
Problems, complaints, questions about your Master's programme? Contact the Life Sciences Representatives.

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Palmitoylation and Coca-Cola cans
Remco Rodenburg (MSc) is a PhD student at Piet Gros’ lab of Crystal & Structural Chemistry. He works on the mammalian palmitoylation machinery for transmembrane proteins, and a wall of Coca-Cola cans.
By: Hugo van den Hoek

What is the goal which you hope to achieve during your PhD?
"First of all, promotion of course [ laughs]. My initial goal was to obtain the 3D-structure of a membrane protein, a molecule that is extremely important for the function of your cells. The precise 3D-structure tells you a lot about its mechanism of action. However, a Japanese group published it before I could…"

You got scooped! A scientist’s nightmare… what did you do next?
"I changed my strategy: I focused on the combination of the 3D-structural knowledge with techniques such as mass spectrometry and nanobody selection. It was very exciting to start this new collaboration and add the new approach to our group’s membrane protein pipeline. This way, future colleagues could later benefit from my work.”

What do you consider to be your best finding so far?
“Finding out when and why cells modify certain proteins with a membrane anchor (palmitate, a molecule also found in candles which cells use to “stick” proteins to their membrane). I use the new mass spectrometry approach to look at the specificity of this modification. Pretty exciting!”

If you see yourself winning a Nobel Prize, what would it be for?
"I would not (want to) see myself winning a Nobel Prize. However, an Ig-nobel prize… [ laughs] (the parodic Ig-nobel prizes honor imaginative, unusual findings that make people laugh, then think, red.)"

What about the wall of Coca-Cola cans?
"That’s just my untitled work of art (and I hate Pepsi)."

Who is your favourite scientist?
"Brian Kobilka (2012 chemistry Nobel laureate). During my literature review I learned a lot about his pioneering work on GPCRs (GPCRs are a very important family of membrane receptors that cells need in order to sense their surroundings; many of your senses such as smell and sight rely upon them, red.). He brought a lot of new insights in the field in order to obtain GPCR crystal structures, bizarre techniques that you wouldn’t think would work. Him winning the Nobel prize almost feels like your favourite sportsman winning Olympic gold."

What does your ideal future look like?
"Not necessarily in science. As long as I’m intellectually challenged by- and passionate about my job, I’m happy."

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Interview with a Life Science Student
Dorrit de Jong is a student from Molecular and Cellular Life Science, who combined her major internship with a board membership. Thus, she has a slightly different perspective on being a part of the Life Science community.
Hello Dorrit, what do you do?
"I am currently an intern at Molecular Plant Physiology, a research group at the Department of Biology. I investigate the influence of raised ambient temperature on the growth of the model plant Arabidopsis."

How long have you been doing that?
"I started my master, Molecular and Cellular Life Sciences, last year September and have been an intern since October. "

Shouldn’t your internship have finished already, then?
"Yes and no. I have been doing my major internship, which is usually 9 months, on a part time basis, so it takes me twice as long. This is because I have also been doing a (part time) board membership at the department of Biology: ‘Studentbestuurslid’."
What does a ‘Studentbestuurslid’ do?
"Forming the bridge between students and the department, and representing all students in the board of Biology. Or more concrete, attending a lot of meetings and writing a lot of emails to students, employees and board members of the department, trying to learn everyone’s interests and trying to create a bridge between all parties."

So you combine research with governance. Is there something you’d want the people of Life Science to know from your perspective as a board membership?
"I don’t know.. Maybe just that it isn’t easy to manage an academic division when you’re in between ‘the people’ on one hand, and the management of the faculty and the whole university on the other hand, trying to keep everyone satisfied and the organization running. But then, I guess there’s not a lot of dissatisfaction."

That sounds fairly good to me. Is there also something ‘the people’ should better not be aware of?
"Yes, the amount of committees that go dine out once a year at the cost of the university. So I won’t tell you that, obviously!"

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“A whole life studying”- They said
“A whole life studying”, If someone had told me that sentence 10 years ago I would have cried just imagining how miserable my life could be. Now, the perspective is completely different.
By: Mario Diaz Munoz

It is been a whole life of attending to class, sitting on a chair and listening to things of which I was not interested at all. I thought that if I wanted to study for the rest of my life I would have to read the same books, do the same exercises again and again and repeat all the well-known information again and again. Nobody told me that I could change the books, that we could change the exercises to make and that the well-known information could be wrong after all.

This is what my Master in Environmental Biology is about.

I would lie if I tell you that I have always wanted to be a scientist, but since I was a kid I have never stop asking questions and I have realized that the best way to answer these questions is becoming a scientist. In my case, my field of study is the interactions among organisms and their environment, that is to say, ecology.

Why are some birds changing their migration routes due to climate changing? Why do we have to protect biodiversity of our ecosystems?

I do not want to give you the answer of these questions, I do not want even to give you more questions because I want you to ask for your own questions and to try to solve them in your way, learning from your mistakes and your achievements. If you have any questions to solve, join this Master, you will have a say here.

“A whole life studying”- They said.
“A whole life discovering” I say.

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Bacteria vs. the gut
Consumption of red meat could increase the risk of colon cancer. Should we stop eating red meat now? We asked Noortje IJssennagger, postdoc at the Department of Molecular Cancer Research at UMC Utrecht, she has been studying this issue for a long time. She looks at the role of gut bacteria and their influence on the intestinal lining.
By: Tara Brosschot & Mario Diaz Munoz

She found the link between red meat and cancer: haem, the pigment that gives meat its red color. Haem itself is toxic to epithelial cells in the lining of the gut. On top of this, the pigment promotes growing of bacteria that break down the protective mucus layer. In this case, haem and other toxic compounds can easily reach the epithelial cells and invoke damage that can lead to excessive cell proliferation.

So, does it mean that due to the haem pigment we should stop eating red meat? It is not that black or white. ‘You can eat red meat, but I would advise to limit your red meat intake to one or two times per week’ Noortje told us, however, she stressed that more research should be done to answer this question.

After the research on haem, which was focused on prevention of colon cancer, Noortje switched her perspective towards the clinic. Recently, she went as a postdoctoral researcher to the group of Saskia van Mil in UMC Utrecht, which has a strong collaboration with the gastroenterology department. Here, she started a new project based on the interplay between bile salts and the gut microbiota in patients with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD).

Noortje thinks certain bacteria in gut of IBD patients are the bad guys, causing disease. They interfere with the digestive process, transforming bile salts into sulfides that break the mucus barrier open. Again, the gut lining is unprotected. Bacteria and damaging compounds reach the bare surface and invoke bouts of excessive inflammation.

To this date, Noortje combines her current project with intensively applying for grants that would let her to continue with her interesting research. We wish her a lot of luck.

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Utrecht radiologist prof. dr. Jeroen Hendrikse receives prestigious grant for work on stroke diagnosis
UMC Utrecht radiologist prof. dr. Jeroen Hendrikse has received a ERC starting  grant in 2014 for developing a new and more precise way of detecting stroke in patients. This new method of a better detecting of the cause stroke is based on the use of a new MRI scanner using a stronger, 7 tesla magnet.
By: Martijn Rotteveel & Hugo van den Hoek

Prof. dr. Hendrikse has spent his prior research in developing methods to be able to better study the brain tissue and detect small brain tissue damages. This has led to his systematic approach of investigating the “Pipes, perfusion and parenchyma” (3P), which he uses to summarize his research. Through looking at the blood vessels (pipes), the delivery of blood to the brain (perfusion) and the actual brain tissue (parenchyma) he hopes to gain a better understanding of the causes of stroke.

The expensive 7-tesla MRI scanner, one of only a few in the Netherlands, has a much stronger magnetic field (over a thousand times that of your typical fridge magnet) compared to conventional MRI scanners, allowing for greater resolution. “A regular 1.5-tesla or 3.0-tesla MRI scanner only sees the tip of the iceberg”, Hendrikse explains, while his machine allows for detection of much smaller damages and earlier detection of stroke and stroke risk factors. This will lead to a more personal diagnosis, allowing for better treatment of each individual patient, he hopes.

Hendrikse received the ERC grant after a scrutinous selection procedure. When asked how he obtained his grant he explains that the full comprehensive application (which takes months to prepare and write), a multi-page summary and a detailed résumé need to be uploaded to the ERC site. After submitting the documents, an ERC commission decides if the proposal is strong enough to enter the next round of oral presentations. These ten-minute oral presentations in front of a European Commission panel in Brussels are followed by a fifteen-minute question round. Hendrikse estimates that from these talks, about 40% are finally awarded with a total success rate of 10-12%.

If the panel is satisfied, the researcher obtains the grant, which can be worth up to €1.500.000. This is a lot of money, but spread over 5 years & several medical and technical PhD students and post-docs it’s not that extreme. Moreover, that’s the cost of innovative and potentially life-saving research, right?

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A quick guide to combine a PhD with a baby
Combining a PhD with a 1 year old baby, not an easy task. Ellen Meijer is in the third year of her PhD research at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences on the topic of lameness in pigs. She tells about her experience as a PhD student and a mother.
By: Lisanne van Woerden

1. Keep your priorities in mind
Ellen started her PhD in 2012 and got her daughter two years later. Both were deliberate choices. For her career she wanted to obtain a doctorate, which improves her chances for a job at the university. However, Ellen and her husband also did not want to wait much longer trying to get a baby. So they decided to do both. Nevertheless, Ellen knows right away what her first priority is: her daughter.

2. Planning is key
With a baby at home, you will have to accept that you will lose a lot of flexibility. “Before Elsa was born, it was easy to do some work in the evening or weekends. Now however, this time is reserved to spend time with her.” Experiments that continue into the evening have to be carefully planned ahead, and all the work in general has to be conducted much more structured.

3. Consider your research group
It is important to keep in mind what is expected of you at your research group. A place where they assume you will be in the office or lab 60 hours a week, perhaps doesn’t combine that well with a baby. As a mother you are entitled to a maternity leave and an extra 80 days of besides the normal vacation days. The time of the maternity leave is added to your contract, but the 80 days off are not. For Ellen, who takes one “mamadag” (mom’s day) per week, this means she has to a five days’ worth of work in four. Even so, Ellen’s PhD is still on schedule and she expects she will obtain her PhD without delay.

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November 9th Science for Life Conference
•   November 19th LS Seminar Infection & Immunity  
•   December 1st Deadline Honours programmes U/Select and QBio  
•   December 10th LS Seminar Science and Business Management  
•   January 12th Research Project Market  
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