Dispatch from Dresden

With just a few weeks left until my return to Toronto, I’m finally getting around to writing a post about my trip abroad! For readers who are not aware, I’ve spent the last couple of months on a visiting fellowship at the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden.

In short, it’s been a blast. The Alberti lab and the people at the institute could not have made me feel more welcome here. Within the first hour of my arrival, I had everything I needed to start working, including a desk, computer accessories, and server space. I even got my own telephone number, though the phone has yet to ring for me (maybe one day…).

The MPI-CBG really provides a fantastic environment for doing science. I got my first glimpse of the great atmosphere at the institute during my first “Friday seminar”. This is a weekly seminar series given by trainees at the institute. The talks have to be general enough to be understandable for everyone at the institute (i.e. computer scientists, developmental biologists, biophysicists, etc.), and often include an entertaining introduction to the speaker.  During these seminars, it becomes clear how collaborative the institute really is. Ideas seem to be free-flowing, and you can see how many labs at the institute (and nearby institutes) are involved in each project. Other than the MPI-CBG, which employs about 500 researchers, there is the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) next door, the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS), as well as a host of other institutes nearby. Every Friday seminar is also followed by a “beer hour”, where the ideas continue to flow, and people from the different institutes are free to mingle. All in all, the institute not only provides plentiful infrastructure and equipment for doing science, but also works hard to cultivate this collegial and collaborative environment. This has been a really pleasant surprise.

Another thing that has exceeded my expectations is the number of people here who are working on what I’m interested in. I came to Dresden to learn about biological phase separation, and there are many people studying this phenomenon here from different angles. From phase separation in real cells (in relation to membraneless organelles, centrosomes, and heterochromatin), to liquid droplets in artificial cells and “proto-cells“, to aberrant phase separation that is thought to cause disease, the opportunities to learn about this topic are plentiful and varied.

Upon my return to Toronto, I’m looking forward to using and sharing what I’ve learned here as I continue to try to understand the relationship between sequence and function in intrinsically disordered regions (particularly those that are involved in phase separation). There are lots of threads to follow up on, and I’m excited to see where they lead.

See you all soon!

 

The futuristic MPI-CBG building.
The Elbe river and Dresden’s Altstadt.
A typical street in Dresden’s Neustadt.

 

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