MFPL group leader Sascha Martens awarded prestigious HFSP Program Grant


MFPL group leader Sascha Martens was awarded a Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP) Program Grant. This highly competitive grant is designed to encourage international scientific collaborations across continents and is shared between the Martens group and researchers from Germany, USA and Japan. 

Over the next three years, the HFSP Program Grant will support the joint project named “The physical basis of autophagosome biogenesis” with up to 1.35 M USD (approx. EUR 1.25 M), a research effort between Sascha Martens (MFPL, Vienna), Gerhard Hummer (Max Planck Institute, Frankfurt), James Hurley (UC Berkeley), and Tamotsu Yoshimori (Osaka University). 

The researchers joined forces to dig deeper into the characterization of a central cellular process called autophagy – research in this field was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2016. Autophagy can be described as the cell’s internal cleaning process, where a defined set of proteins coordinate the clearing of specific components the cell no longer needs, as well as the removal of unwanted pathogens such as viruses or bacteria.
In order to remove this waste, the cell forms something resembling a trash bag called the “autophagosome”, which envelops the desired target.
But how exactly does such an autophagosome form? This is the research question the scientists will focus on, by studying the removal of intracellular bacteria like Salmonella by the autophagosome. “Autophagosome formation is an extremely complex process involving dozens of proteins and protein complexes in addition to cellular membranes. Only in a collaborative effort we will be able to biochemically reconstitute the process and to correlate these data with the observation of autophagosome formation in cells. Furthermore, with biophysical modelling approaches we hope to obtain insights into how many factors must come together to drive the process,” says Sascha Martens.

The Program Grants are sought-after and very competitive grants, with only 3% of incoming applications being successful. The HFSP fosters international collaborations in basic research, thus one of the requirements for collaboration are at least two labs being situated on two different continents.
“This is really one of the grand challenges in cell biology and together we hope to find out how cells form autophagosomes and which factors mediate this,” concludes Sascha Martens.

For up-to-date information and open calls, visit the HFSP website.