This year’s “Kirsten Peter Rabitsch Award” was presented to Julia Batki from the lab of Julius Brennecke

Julia was born and raised in Hungary, where she completed her undergraduate studies in chemistry. Being fascinated by biological systems and mechanisms, she started to investigate nucleotide metabolism and DNA repair pathways in Drosophila development at the Institute of Enzymology in Budapest. Julia first got in contact with the Brennecke group in 2013, as a summer school student. “After being selected as a summer school student and spending an amazing summer in the Brennecke lab, I was sure I would like to come back. In 2014, I started in the lab as a PhD student,” she says.

With her PhD project Julia uncovered that a house keeping gene variant got repurposed for a new function to repress transposons. In addition, the pathway adapted a novel protein which is not present outside of some insect species. Lastly, the host utilizes the general cellular heterochromatin machinery as the downstream effector to elicit repression. “Studying the piRNA pathway does not only help us to understand how transposon silencing works, but it also leads us to new or even unexpected areas of biology with a cool evolutionary angle. The interaction of transposons and the piRNA pathway is an interesting evolutionary battle field. What I find most exciting is how much innovation the host needed in order to fight these selfish genetic elements, via repressing them” she says.

In 2019, Julia successfully defended her PhD thesis entitled: "Nuclear small RNA-guided silencing of transposable elements in Drosophila melanogaster", her findings were published in the journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology.

The award is named after Kirsten Peter Rabitsch, a former PhD Student in Kim Nasmyth’s lab at the IMP. He was a promising scientist and had just completed his doctorate when he died tragically in Bolivia in 2006. The prize is worth 2000 Euros and is sponsored jointly by the IMP and Kirsten’s parents Hermann Rabitsch and Joana Krizanits. It is awarded each year during the IMP-IMBA Recess and goes to the PhD Student who has excelled in his or her research in the previous year.

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