Message from the Director's Desk - The Messenger No. 17

Dear colleagues,

Tempus fugit – we are nearly half a year into the third and final four-year phase of the NCCR RNA & Disease. As you may be aware, NCCRs, regardless of their performance, receive substantially less funding from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for phase 3 than for the previous phases, and we are therefore very grateful that our home institutions, the University of Bern and ETH Zurich, decided to continue their generous support.

The overall reduction in funding prompted our network to adopt an internal competitive allocation of the phase 3 research funding: all PIs submitted project proposals that were then evaluated by the Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) and the Steering Committee, who decided which of the projects to include in the Pre- and Full-Proposal. The SNSF review panel found the Full-Proposal excellent and had no recommendations for changes, confirming the added-value of our internal evaluation.

In addition to the proposed research projects, which are even more disease-oriented and collaborative in phase 3, the panel appreciated the network activities, including the areas of Communication, Education, Equal Opportunities (EO) and Knowledge & Technology Transfer (KTT). I want to take the opportunity here to express my gratitude to everybody who contributed to this excellent outcome of our phase 3 Proposal, especially our SAB members, whose expertise and tireless support is highly appreciated!

I am looking forward to the exciting scientific discoveries to be made during the remaining 3.5 years and to our ongoing and new activities in other areas. Regarding network activities, after COVID-imposed postponements and cancellations, we were able to meet again in person at the retreat in Engelberg in March and at the Summer School in Saas Fee in August. I am looking forward to the upcoming retreat in January 2023, for which we will return to Kandersteg, and to the Swiss RNA Workshop that will take place just before the retreat.

On Thursday, January 26, 2023, the day before the Swiss RNA Workshop, a new KTT event will take place in Bern to which I would like to draw your attention: The first Swiss RNA Therapeutics Summit is a one day-meeting jointly organized by our KTT team and the Swiss Biotech Association with the goal to tighten the links of our researchers with biotech. Regarding EO, we are pleased to see a growing interest in the newly established parental leave support scheme.

As another teaser, I can announce that together with a professional team at the University of Bern, the production of a FLASH Mooc interactive video on RNA is being planned, which targets an interested lay audience and will be linked to our MoleCool website. For public outreach, this year’s highlight was without any doubt the NCCR’s exhibition “Kosmos RNA – The Code of Life” at the Night of Research of the University of Bern, of which impressions can be found on page 12 of this Newsletter.

The main story of this Newsletter is an interview with Prof. John Mattick (UNSW, Sydney, Australia), with whom I spent my sabbatical 6 years ago and who gave a seminar at the ETH earlier this year, sharing with us his views on the RNA Cosmos. Fresh of the press is John’s book “RNA – the Epicenter of Genetic Information”, which he co-authored with his former PhD student Paulo Amaral. The book takes you through the history of molecular and RNA biology, highlighting unexpected turns in this exciting research field.

Apropos “unexpected”: New and unexpected findings were also made by some of our colleagues in the network, and they are featured as three Research Highlights in this Newsletter. I am convinced that more unforeseen and exciting discoveries will be made during phase 3 by NCCR RNA & Disease researchers. Therefore: stay tuned, take pleasure in conducting research, and enjoy reading this edition of The Messenger!

Oliver Mühlemann - Director NCCR RNA & Disease

Website Mühlemann Lab