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Single-molecule engineering niche in Gravitation research

15 April 2024
Dr. Kasia Tych
 Dr Kasia Tych

With her expertise in single-molecule techniques, Dr Kasia Tych of the Groningen Biomolecular Sciences and Biotechnology Institute (Faculty of Science and Engineering, RUG) will contribute to the  research programme FLOW. The cabinet is funding 23 million euros to this project, which will map how certain proteins are guided from cradle to grave in the cell. The resulting knowledge can be used to cure and prevent diseases such as Parkinson's and cystic fibrosis.

The research programme is led by Utrecht University and consists of a broad consortium of Universities and Medical Centres. The funding is part of the Gravitation Programme through which the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has been investing in world-leading research for 10 years. Tych has been awarded around EUR 300,000 for her research.

Tych: 'Tools like the optical tweezers are important since proteins are too small to see with conventional light microscopes and only by observing them can we learn more about how they function.'

Observing proteins

The research focuses on the quality control process in cells of the human body. Tych has been working on this topic for years, using single-molecule techniques such as optical tweezers. Optical tweezers use focused laser beams to trap and manipulate microscopic particles. In studies on protein, this involves trapping a single protein molecule between two micron-sized glass beads. This allows researchers to study their mechanical properties and interactions at the single-molecule level. Tych: 'Tools like the optical tweezers are important since proteins are too small to see with conventional light microscopes and only by observing them can we learn more about how they function.'

Turning the knobs

In this project, scientists are looking at two proteins: the first protein is CFTR, which when malfunctioning leads to cystic fibrosis. The second protein is alpha-synuclein, which when malfunctioning leads to Parkinson's disease. The knowledge should eventually lead to researchers being able to turn the knobs of the system themselves, providing the basis for new therapies for these diseases. In addition, the results make it easier to control a wide range of other disease-related proteins for medical and biotechnological purposes.

Read Utrecht University's news release here

A total of seven consortia with top scientists from different Dutch universities will receive a Gravitation- grant (Zwaartekracht-subsidie). The University of Groningen is a partner in two of these consortia:

Last modified:16 May 2024 3.38 p.m.
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