Rafal was born in Poland and studied Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Szeged, Hungary. He came to Vienna and spent the years 1995 to 2000 at the IMP, first as PhD Student and then as Postdoc. I met him in March 2009 when he was visiting to give a seminar-talk on germline totipotency in C. elegans at the invitation of Carrie Cowan.
The first thing Rafal mentioned was how impressed he was by the changes that had taken place at the institute in the past years. He was truly amazed at the growth of the Campus, the sheer amount of expertise assembled. Back in the days when he was a student, the IMP was a bit isolated, standing out like a lighthouse. In the meantime, a critical mass has definitely accumulated, according to Rafal.
Rafal was a student in Kim Namsyth’s lab and did his PhD on sister chromatid cohesion in yeast. It was the time when the topic really took off, he recalls. Days in the lab were exciting, the atmosphere was very dynamic, there were lots of discussions going on all the time. Rafal mentions how important those years were for his development as a scientist, shaping his style of research and teaching him critical thinking.
From the IMP, Rafal went on to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle to do postdoctoral research with James Priess. He stayed for almost six years, until he moved to Basel to become Junior Group Leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research. The FMI is a little similar to the IMP, it is also sponsored by industry – in this case Novartis – and it is also considered a “boutique institute”, meaning high-end. The main topics covered at the FMI are neurobiology, epigenetics and growth control.
Rafal’s research interest focuses on the determination and maintenance of cell identity. He is interested in totipotent cells, such as germ cells, and the molecular mechanisms that constitute and maintain totipotency. His team has identified mutants in which C. elegans germ cells inappropriately differentiate into somatic cell types, reminiscent of the human germ cell tumours called teratomas.
Rafal’s work has shown for the first time that maintenance of totipotency in germ cells requires an extra layer of regulation that relies on translational regulation. His discoveries have earned him a number of research awards, like the Amersham Biosciences and Science Magazine Young Scientist Award, the Special Fellow Award by the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Society, or the Fondation Schlumberger pour l'Éducation et la Recherche Prize.
Rafal has just finished his third year at FMI and is about to start his second three-year term. He likes Basel and appreciates the international flavour, due to the number of international companies whose headquarters are located there. Also as a consequence, the general attitude towards biotechnology is a lot more open than in most other places in Europe, he says.
Rafal lives in a small village just outside Basel. He is married and has a three-year-old daughter. As an IMP-alumnus, he enjoys reading the newsletter and likes to come back to meet friends and colleagues.
By Heidemarie Hurtl, first published in 2009
Alumni Stories: quick links
Angelika Amon - Jörg Betschinger - Sarah Bowman - Rafal Ciosk - Greg Emery - Silke Hauf - Christian Häring - Konrad Hochedlinger - Andrea Hutterer - Claudine Kraft - Christoph Lengauer - Marieke von Lindern - Mark Petronczki - Walter Schmidt - Camilla Sjögren - Andrew Straw - Attila Toth - Giulio Superti-Furga - Frank Uhlmann - Hartmut Vodermaier