March 31, 2015

Meet Katarzyna Kowalik

Katarzyna Kowalik is a PhD student in Marc Bühler's research group. Together with Yukiko Shimada she has elucidated the mechanism by which small RNAs permanently silence genes. Their findings, published in Nature, have great potential for applications in various fields.

Q: You have identified the mechanism by which genes can be silenced by small RNAs. This question has fascinated the research community for more than a decade but progress was slow and hampered with setbacks. What has motivated you to pursue this project nevertheless and to finally bring it to success?
A: The moment Yukiko completed the screen and we saw the results clearly pointing to the Paf1 complex we knew, that we found something really exciting. This kept all of us really motivated. The close team-work also allowed us to share little joys and little disappointments along the way - I think this brought great comfort to both of us and helped us stay on track. Finally - Marc's enthusiasm and never ending support were especially motivating for me all along the way.

Q: You have obtained these interesting results using yeast. Some may say this is a model organism too remote from human cells and therefore of little biomedical relevance. What is your experience?
A: Indeed, yeast may seem quite distant to human cells. However, you need to remember that in our lab we are investigating basic cellular processes, like the regulation of gene expression, and the components of the pathways we are studying are highly conserved in higher eukaryotes. Using yeast we have an incredible advantage over other model systems in terms of the flexibility and feasibility of genetic studies. And we can do these studies really fast. All this allows us to address challenging questions, which at the moment cannot be tackled easily in other systems, and later on to transfer our findings to mouse or human cells. Therefore, we believe that with our work and discoveries we build the fundaments for important biomedical research.

Q: You are now at the end of your PhD. What do you take with you from your time at the FMI? In what ways do you think will the "FMI experience" shape your career?
A: I have learned a lot during my work here at FMI and I still keep on learning new things. One of the most important lessons was how a friendly, open and supportive work environment makes the difference to everybody in the lab, and how it influences not only the quality of the work but increases also everybody's comfort. Without the fantastic collaboration with Yukiko, Valentin and Michael here at FMI our success would have never been possible. I have definitely come to appreciate a great working environment and will look for this in the future.

Q: To stay abreast in science you need to work a lot and read a lot of scientific literature. Has anything apart from science, be it for example literature, art or music, captured your imagination lately and has energized you?
A: In my case everything that relates to culinary culture brings me lots of positive energy! Cooking books, magazines, blogs, culinary guides and food-themed travel guides are like a magnet to me. I have to admit that I tend to collect more of them than I am able to read these days. Naturally, whenever I have a chance I am also testing newly found recipes and inspirations myself at home and, if I travel, I try to gather as many culinary experiences and memories as possible.

Original publication
Kowalik KM*, Shimada Y*, Flury V, Stadler MB, Batki J, Bühler M. (2015) The Paf1 complex represses small-RNA-mediated epigenetic gene silencing. Nature, doi:10.1038/nature14337
*equal contribution

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