Outstanding master thesis on the structure and function of a bacterial enzyme honoured

Lena Graß has received an award by GBM for her master thesis. © FU Berlin

On December 17, 2018, Lena Graß, a PhD student from the Structural Biochemistry Group at Freie Universität Berlin, was awarded the Master Prize of the Gesellschaft für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie e.V. (Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology) (GBM). For her master thesis at Freie Universität Berlin and the MX beamlines of BESSY II, she deciphered the structure and function of a so-called RNA helicase.

These bacterial enzymes can alter the activities of RNA molecules and influence the life cycle of bacteria. As part of her master's thesis, Lena Graß investigated a RNA helicase from the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli. A closely related enzyme from the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of borreliosis, is essential for the infectivity of these bacteria. A better understanding of this enzyme could help to develop new drugs to block the enzyme.

Graß produced the enzyme using genetic engineering methods. Using macromolecular X-ray crystallography on the MX beam tubes of the Joint Berlin MX Laboratory at BESSY II, Graß was able to elucidate how the enzyme is constructed and folded in detail.

Graß began her master's degree in biochemistry at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in 2015 and completed her master's thesis in the structural biochemistry group of the Freie Universität Berlin in cooperation with the macromolecular crystallography group at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin. At the beginning of 2018, she completed her master's degree with the highest grade. She is currently doing her doctorate in the structural biochemistry group at Freie Universität.