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Million Euro Award to Young Hungarian Scientist at the MDC Research on “Mobile Genetic Elements”- High biomedical Potential

For her research on mobile genetic elements the Hungarian scientist, Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák, from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin-Buch/Germany, has been awarded the inaugural European Young Investigators Award (EURYI) in Stockholm. The grant of about one million Euros allows her to set up a research group of her own over a period of five years at the MDC. The award is comparable in size to the Nobel Prize. According to the EURYI-committee, Dr. Izsvák is a leader in the field of research on mobile genetic elements (transposons). Transposon research is expanding our understanding of host transposon interactions, including principal molecular processes involved in cellular responses to DNA damage in mammals. As natural DNA-delivery vehicles, transposons have high potential for biomedical applications and may open promising new possibilities for gene therapy. Also, the application of transposons could bring gene discovery in vertebrates to another level.

Million Euro Award to Hungarian scientist Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch/Germany (Copyright: MDC/Photo: Uwe Eising)

The award is to ensure Dr. Izsvák's competitiveness with Japan and the USA and to keep her scientific capacity in Europe. Dr. Izsvák is also affiliated to the Biological ResearchCenter of the HungarianAcademy of Sciences in Szeged, which is a Center of Excellence of the European Union. The EURYI award has been launched by the European Heads of Research Councils (EUROHORCS) in cooperation with the European Science Foundation (ESF) in Strasbourg. It is supported by 15 European countries. Dr. Izsvák is one of 25 young researchers from various European countries and the USA who were honoured with this new award in Stockholm. Four of the winners work in Germany. From a total of 777 researchers who had applied from all over the world, 133 of them had reached the second round, from which the award-winning scientists had been chosen.

Mobile genetic elements had been discovered in maize by the American researcher Barbara McClintock in the late forties of the last century. In 1983 she received the Nobel Prize for her discovery. She revealed for the first time that the genome is not a stable entity, but "mobile", due to the activities of transposable elements. Transposons can be found in the genomes of all living organisms, ranging from bacteria to humans, where they make up a surprisingly large fraction of DNA (45 per cent). These elements can be considered as molecular parasites, living and evolving together with their host. Transposons can induce DNA damages in their host, but most transposons in vertebrates are inactive remains of once active elements. Some of the basic cellular mechanisms, for example, the process providing diversity to the immune system in vertebrates originates from transposons.

normal'>“Sleeping Beauty” kissed back to life after a long evolutionary

Transposons have lost their activity by mutations during vertebrate evolution. Dr. Izsvák, together with her husband, the Hungarian biologist Dr. Zoltán Ivics, also a research group leader at MDC, developed an artificial transposon that is based an ancient genomic elements from fish which presumably have been active 20 million years ago. By correcting all mutations, they literally awakened their artificial transposon with a kiss and therefore named it normal'>Sleeping Beauty. This artificial element is able to insert into the genome of many species, including human.

Dr. Zsuzsanna Izsvák was born on August 18, 1961 in Miskolc/Hungary. From 1979 – 1984 she studied biology at the Kossuth Lajos University in Debrecen, where she received her Master’s of Science in 1984. From 1987 – 1991 she worked at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences at Szeged and received her PhD in 1993. She was doing research at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis/USA from 1991 – 1997. With a stipend from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) she went to the Netherland Cancer Research Institute in Amsterdam. In 1999 she came to the MDC, together with her husband. Since summer 2004, she has her own research group at the MDC where she will continue to work closely with her husband.


Barbara Bachtler
Press and Public Affairs
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC)
Robert-Rössle-Straße 10; 13125 Berlin; Germany
Phone: +49 (0) 30 94 06 - 38 96
Fax:  +49 (0) 30
94 06 - 38 33


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