Anna-Katharina Pfitzner, PhD student in the Roux lab (UNIGE) receives the International Birnstiel Award, one of the leading life science prizes for young researchers, for her PhD work that unravelled the mechanism by which ESCRT-III remodels membranes.
In the second year of the International Birnstiel Award for Doctoral Studies in the Molecular Life Sciences, six exceptional young scientists were chosen as laureates. Among them is Anna-Katharina Pfitzner, PhD student in the NCCR lab of Aurélien Roux at the University of Geneva’s Biochemistry Department since 2017, after studying biochemistry at the University of Tübingen. The prize acknowledges her exceptional level of insight, creativity, and independence which led to a remarkable contribution in understanding how ESCRT-III works.
The laureates stood out from exceptionally strong competition: over 130 nominations were received from institutions in Europe, North America, Asia, and Australia – each of them putting forward their most talented PhD student from the previous year, covering a broad spectrum of the molecular life sciences.
In her doctoral research project, Anna-Katharina studied the mechanism of membrane remodelling by the most ancient membrane remodelling complex, the Endosomal Sorting Complex Required for Transport-III (ESCRT-III). This machinery is unique in its ability to scission membrane structures from their luminal side, a function that is crucial for a large variety of cellular functions ranging from cytokinesis and nuclear envelope maintenance to viral budding. Based on her preliminary observations, Anna imagined that ESCRT-III molecules could be recruited at the membrane in a sequence and designed the experiments to test this idea. This hypothesis turned out to be true and, using electron microscopy, she could further show that this recruitment sequence was coupled to membrane deformation and fission. Altogether, the findings are a landmark in understanding how ESCRT-III works, but more generally in cell biology because of the pleiotropic role of ESCRT-III in cellular functions. Anna-Katharina’s study was recently published in Cell (open access).