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“Teaching by Peers” in Prague

This term the “Teaching by Peers” seminar, a special feature of the International Doctorate Program (IDK) Receptor Dynamics, took place in Prague from 24th April to 3rd March 2016. This format is mainly organized by the doctoral students themselves. They give presentations on the status of their projects and on the research methods they use.

The group of IDK doctoral students on the Charles Bridge

Exploring the campus of the Czech Academy of Sciences

IDK doctoral students discussing receptor dynamics

Such exchange provides many opportunities to learn from each other and benefit from the interdisciplinary nature of the International Doctorate Program.

On the first day of this term’s meeting, Professor Vladimír Kren, our host in Prague, welcomed us to his Laboratory of Biotransformation, which is part of the Institute of Microbiology at the Czech Academy of Sciences (CAS). The CAS is a public non-university research institution comprising 54 research institutes mainly working in basic research, ranging from natural, technical, and social sciences to humanities. In the first session, Prof. Kren introduced us to his research group and together with members of his laboratory presented his main research focus – natural compounds (Flavonolignans) derived from the medicinal plant Silybum marianum (milk thistle). We learned about historical uses of the milk thistle, natural products it contains, and how they can be enzymatically transformed to produce pharmaceutically useful derivatives or prodrugs. During lunch in a leisurely garden restaurant near the academy, we had the first opportunity for informal exchange with Czech and international researchers and doctoral students based at the Academy of Sciences, who had also been invited to our “Teaching by Peers” and gave talks after lunch.

The session after lunch was opened by Dr. Blahos of the Laboratory of Molecular Pharmacology at the Institute of Molecular Biology. Dr. Blahos and his doctoral students gave insights into the activation mechanisms of the muscarinic M1 receptor by agonists and the regulation of canna-binoid receptor1 by SGIP1. Our group of IDK doctoral students presented in the third session after coffee, including also a poster session. We introduced parts of our ongoing projects and mainly the methods we develop and use. These range from FRET-based measurements to radioligand binding, photostimulation and detection of biological signals. As in previous “Teaching by Peers” meetings, probably the most fruitful and stimulating parts of the talks were the discussion sections. All participants provided input to open questions of the individual projects, discussed advantages and disadvantages of different methods and suggested possible strategies to help. We closed the day with dinner in downtown Prague, where we not only had the oppor-tunity for scientific discussions, but also for informal networking.
On Sunday, we went downtown again for sightseeing. Instead of a guided tour through Prague, we had prepared an interactive tour through Prague ourselves. This way we learned a lot about the history of Prague and the Czech Republic as well as interesting facts about nice and attractive places in Prague such as Wenceslas Square, the Astronomical Clock, Charles Bridge, Prague Castle with St. Vitus Cathedral or the Old New Synagogue (Staronová Synagoga) of 1270 and the Old Jewish Cemetery.

In the morning of our final day in Prague, we had the opportunity to visit the German embassy. We had a guided tour and a brief introduction to the history of the Palais Lobkowicz, in which Beethoven had given piano concerts, and its garden. Later on, we went inside and watched an impressive and touching documentation about the dramatic events at the Germany Embassy in 1989 when thousands of citizens from the former German Democratic Republic tried to reach West Germany via the embassy.
For lunch we went to the Czech Academy of Sciences again, where we had some visits and excursions to different laboratories. It was a great pleasure to see the facilities for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Mass Spectrometry, the Czech Open Screen, the Transgenic Unit, and the Czech Bioimaging center. The research facilities at the CAS are of an extremely high standard and it was awesome to talk to highly motivated scientists of the different departments. We arrived back at our German home universities full of new scientific and cultural impressions.

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