Elena Conti receives Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine

Award for research on RNA quality control and degradation

January 22, 2014

Much in the same way as we use shredders to destroy documents that are no longer useful or that contain potentially damaging information, cells use molecular machines to degrade unwanted or defective macromolecules. Elena Conti, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried near Munich, Germany, deciphered at the level of atomic resolution how faulty RNAs are recognized and eliminated. For her work on this form of cellular quality control, the biochemist and structural biologist receives the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine 2014. The award comes with 700,000 CHF prize money (about 570,000 Euros) and will be presented on April 9, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Elena Conti, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry

RNAs constitute a large family of macromolecules. They are present in all cells and have multiple functions, such as allowing the translation of genomic information into proteins. Errors that occur during the synthesis of RNA molecules or the unwanted accumulation of RNAs can damage cells and cause pathologies at the level of the organism. The elimination of defective RNAs or of RNAs that are no longer needed is an important process for the metabolism of our cells. The department of “Structural Cell Biology” headed by Elena Conti has elucidated the structures and mechanisms of molecular machines that are key for this process. Her group visualized how the Exon Junction Complex binds tightly on the RNA, allowing it to work as a mark for recognizing faulty mRNAs. Conti and colleagues also deciphered how an intricate molecular machine, the Exosome complex, shreds RNAs into pieces. This work has shown that several principles of the mechanism of this essential nano-machine are conserved in different forms of life.

“I will use the prize money to continue our work on the mechanisms of RNA quality control and degradation, and in particular to gain deeper insights into the structure and regulation of the Exosome,” says Elena Conti.

Every year, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine distinguishes leading-edge researchers who are active in the member countries of the European Council. As one of the best-endowed awards in Europe, the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine fosters scientific excellence. In 2014, Denis Le Bihan is the second awardee of the Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine. The French physician and physicist will receive the price for the development of a new imaging method that has revolutionized the diagnosis and treatment of strokes.


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