Why have you chosen to do a PhD in an international collaboration project?

As I have already experienced the privilege to live, study, and work in different countries around Europe, I was and am still excited to be able to join an international collaboration project to further pursue my scientific career. The possibilities that accompany such a programme, i.e. exchange with international fellow students, scientific stays and lectures abroad, and a broad network, are enticing.

My lab and the PhD-project I am doing

My PhD is focused on the development and establishment of epigenetic tools to control epigenetic events in CHO cells. Epigenetic factors control gene expression without altering the DNA or RNA sequence. Instead functional groups are added either to the nucleotides of the DNA itself or to proteins associated with the chromatin. Traditionally, epigenetic control was executed by exposing cells to small inhibitor or enhancer molecules which could prevent or promote the beforehand mentioned effects. This approach is feasible when looking at genome wide effects of epigenetic marks, but inappropriate when the epigenetic effects on single loci should be investigated.Due to the recent breakthroughs within the CHO field, e.g. genome-sequencing and application of genome editing tools, a new and more elegant way to study epigenetic effects on CHO performance parameters, e.g. growth and productivity, and the control of the very effects seems possible.

What kind of tips would you give to future PhDs taking part in an ITN?

The only prerequisite future ITN students should fulfil is being open-minded towards other cultures and towards other people. Living in a new and maybe foreign country requires the motivation to integrate oneself by trying to connect to the local community. Also, the close collaboration with other PhD students and supervisors from across the different ITN partners is demanding but fruitful.

Nikolas Marx, BOKU

Scientific Background

I obtained my Bachelor’s degree in Instrumental Biotechnology at the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences in 2012. In my Bachelor’s thesis, I compared two different cell retention systems commonly used for CHO cell perfusion bioprocesses and their impact on culture performance. After an internship at the Research & Development Department at Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen, Denmark, I continued my studies at Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, where I completed the Master’s course in Pharmaceutical Biotechnology in 2015. In Hamburg, my studies focused on bioprocess engineering and automation, which also was a central part of my Master’s thesis. Here, I was hosted by the Cell Culture Technology Department at Novo Nordisk in Copenhagen under the supervision of Dr. Martin Heitmann. In the thesis I compared different CHO cell perfusion and continuous culture set-ups to identify a suitable scaling parameter for scale-up between different culturing modes, working volumes, and bioreactors. Afterwards, I was hired as a Bioprocess Consultant by Novo Nordisk for 6 months before beginning my PhD within the eCHO systems programme.

eCHO Systems