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Rabitsch Award 2020 for Merve Deniz Abdusselamoglu

09 Nov 2020

It is a special year in so many ways, with limitations on travel and crowds – but the Kirsten Peter Rabitsch Award for the best thesis at IMP or IMBA was awarded nonetheless: IMBA alumna Merve Deniz Abdusselamoglu from Jürgen Knoblich’s lab convinced the jury this year.

Behaviour, such as talking, movements, or experiencing sensations, depends on complex networks of billions of diverse neurons. To generate such a diversity, a limited pool of seemingly homogenous neural stem cells (NSCs) undergoes highly dynamic and precise changes in their chromatin landscape and their gene expression programs. For her PhD research, Deniz studied these processes in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster, where she found a new regulator that defines the temporal identity of NSCs. This discovery led her to uncover the underlying mechanism of the NSC aging that regulates neuronal diversity. In addition, Deniz showed that rather than gaining repressive marks, stem cell identity genes are silenced via loss of activating histone marks. Finally, she also identified a set of new genes that are required for NSC subtype specification.

“During my PhD as a member of the Vienna BioCenter PhD programme, I had the opportunity to be a peer for many talented people, and I was exposed to great science, which helped me to improve myself and start a fruitful career”, said Deniz when she was notified of the award. Only last month, she started a postdoc in the lab of Elaine Fuchs at The Rockefeller University in New York – with some delay due to the Covid-19 imposed travel restrictions. Prior to her doctoral studies in Vienna, Deniz completed a BSc and MSc in Molecular Biology and Genetics at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

Deniz Abdusselamoglu’s PhD supervisor Jürgen Knoblich was enthusiastic when he learned about the award: ““I cannot say how happy I am for Deniz, who has been a truly amazing student when she was in my laboratory – a role model showing how persistence in rough times can pay off. She highly deserves the award recognizing her outstanding talent.”

Jürgen Knoblich also highlighted the intention of the award: “It helps us to remember Kirsten Rabitsch, one of the most outstanding talents at this campus, whose wish to do a postdoc in my laboratory was sadly destroyed by brutal violence. I am thankful to the Rabitsch family for keeping his memory alive with this award.”

Kirsten Peter Rabitsch, his partner, and another person died in 2006 in tragic circumstances shortly after Kirsten had completed his PhD in the lab of Kim Nasmyth at the IMP. The prize, which is worth 2,000 Euros, was installed in 2006 by the IMP and Kirsten’s family who are sponsoring it to this day and take an active interest in the awardees and their research. The award is a continuing tribute to Kirsten’s outstanding personality and talent and an inspiration for aspiring young scientists at our institute.

About the Rabitsch Award
Full record of Rabitsch Award laureates.

About the VBC PhD Programme
Are you interested in doing a PhD that could kick-start your career in molecular biology research? The call is open - learn more about the Vienna BioCenter PhD Program here.