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Money for research comes from Norway

Professor Zdena Palková of the Genetics and Microbiology Department is known for her original yeast cell colony research projects. This year she has managed to get substantial financial support for her work. Her team has become one of nineteen teams in the Czech Republic to receive grants from the Czech-Norwegian Research Programme.



University and the Faculty's only project to have been selected in the end. What do you believe was the key to this achievement of yours?

Let me start by correcting you: it is not just my and my team's achievement. We filed the application together with the team of Libuše Váchová of the Institute of Microbiology at the Academy of Sciences with whom we have long-standing and highly productive cooperation. This is in fact a three-party agreement: our team, dr. Váchová's team and the Norwegian partner, i.e. the Oslo University.


What is the story of setting up this partnership between two Czech teams that have known each other well for years and the Norwegian partner?

To put it very simply, Norwegians have a lot of money, but few people. That is why they look for long-term partnerships with researchers in other countries, under intergovernmental agreements. Besides our country, they cooperate with researchers in e.g. Poland and Hungary. Our Ministry of Education co-finances this project to some extent, but the main portion of the money (about 80 %) comes from Norway. One of the key preconditions for granting this support is that a sound research partnership has already been set up and works well. This fact, apparently, positively influenced the overall evaluation of our project.


What was it like for you to set up this partnership?

Yeast cell colonies are a fairly unique field, and we knew that rather than looking for a researcher exploring a similar field of expertise, we should look for a lab to expand the existing scope of our research methods. We therefore looked for teams that offer new-generation sequenation methods that we could use in our research projects. We did not know much about Norwegian researchers and scientists, so we started checking databases.


Finding a partner was just the first step, though.

Absolutely. The next logical step was to discuss our research results and goals with the potential partner. The Norwegian partner approached us based on our articles and our email communication and showed serious interest in the whole thing. Our Ministry then organised a joint seminar in Prague, sort of a "friendship event". That was a great opportunity to discuss and agree on some of the basic features and principles of our future cooperation. The split of roles is rather simple: we have a system plus focus areas that the Norwegian site finds interesting (we do as well, of course), and they have methods that we can use to expand our research in new, exciting directions. And the money provided by the Norwegian Funds is used to finance these fairly expensive methods.


Yeast cell colony on a nutritive agar. Photo: Zdeny Palková's archive


What exactly is the Norwegian partner's contribution to your research project?

Basically, our yeast cell colony research project consists of two basic lines. We explore differentiation of colonies and formation of specialised cells similar to cells occurring in mammalian tumours, as well as colonies of natural yeast cell stems that we use as models in our biofilm exploration efforts. We employ a wide range of methods used in cellular biology, microbiology and biochemistry. The new-generation sequenation methods to be provided by our Norwegian partner will make it possible for us to expand our research work in the areas of genomics and transcriptomics.


Can you be more specific?

Sure. We have been routinely using the microarrays method to analyse transcriptomes for years, and this method has helped us discover a number of differences among the main cell subpopulations within a single colony. This method, however, has some limits. One of the significant ones is the quantity of RNA we need. For the RNA sequenation planned in the Norwegian Funds project we need a 50 - 100 times lower quantity of RNA to be able to analyse far smaller subpopulations and get much more detailed information as to how the cells are differentiated to represent the respective types. The plan is to use DNA sequenation to explore genome changes that occur during the colony development and may significantly influence each of the existing subpopulations. This is a brand new direction in our research work. 


Does this also apply to exploration of yeast cells used as models for biofilms?

As for "biofilm" colonies, we will mainly analyse the transcriptomes of those parts of colonies that are embedded in solid matter, e.g. agar, on which they grow to form the "roots" of the whole structure. This part is very important for the colony's growth, and so far we could analyse it mainly by combining confocal microscopy with various types of colouring. We know very little about the transcription and the processes that take place there. In the other part of the  project we are going to explore epigenetic regulations that might be significant in terms of biofilm colony growth.


Is RNA sequentation sufficient in monitoring epigenetic changes?

No, this part does not involve RNA sequenation. Gregor Gilfillan, our Norwegian colleague, has experience of another technique that we are interested in but so far we haven't had enough capacity to get familiar with it: chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) is a technique that should help us identify some of the changes relating to chromatin reconstruction, a process that probably takes place in colonies. The goal of the project is to use this method in our research work, start using it in our laboratory and teach it to our students. In other words, our project includes a research part that is supported by our historical publications and also meets the requirement of tangible benefits on the methodological and training sides.


This is what the technical part of your joint project is all about. Can you also describe the administrative part, i.e. the process from the point of grant application to the point of grant approval as seen from a "managerial" perspective?

I must say that the research part was certainly the simpler portion of the entire process - it is usually quite easy to find a common language with other researchers. The project was a big challenge on the administrative side, though. We expected the process to be rather simple, because Norway is not part of the European Union, but the application form is a typical "European" product that contains a number of "chapters" that have nothing in common with science. I can't say whether it's more on the Norwegian side or the Czech one. Anyway, as a result on delays at the Ministry of Education, the application preparation and filing was done between December and early February, one of the  most hectic periods at universities. But we received a three-year grant in the end, thank god, and we believe that we will continue this interesting and fruitful cooperation also after completing this three-year project.  


We will keep our fingers crossed for you to see your expectations met. 


By Michal Andrle


Podpořeno grantem z Norska / Supported by grant from Norway

Published: Oct 24, 2014 02:25 PM

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