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Claus-Dieter Kuhn gets Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers

Insights into the function of non-coding RNAs

Goethe University Frankfurt

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IMAGE: This is Dr. Claus-Dieter Kuhn. view more

Credit: Boran & Parot, Bayreuth

FRANKFURT am MAIN. Today, Dr. Claus-Dieter Kuhn from Bayreuth University will be awarded the €60,000 Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers for 2016. Kuhn, a biochemist and structural biologist, is being honored for his research into the leading role of RNAs in the cell. RNAs were long thought to only be the "executive" of the gene copying machinery. Yet they are the ones that really "pull the strings" in the cell. Some RNAs function as molecular switches, pushing development in one direction or another. Others flag messenger RNAs (mRNAs) for elimination, thereby controlling how many mRNAs are transcribed into proteins. Yet others dispose of themselves if they do not meet the cell's quality specifications. Kuhn has worked on various aspects of these processes, showing how RNAs, together with certain proteins, master these tasks and he has elucidated the properties that they exhibit for the purpose. The Scientific Council of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation acknowledges that Kuhn's work has advanced RNA research and has improved the prospects of harnessing RNAs for therapeutic purposes. The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers will be presented by Professor Harald zur Hausen in the Paulskirche, Frankfurt.

Kuhn's work ties in with the observation that every cell contains hundreds of thousands of RNAs that are not translated into proteins and yet are not simply waste. For a long time scientists could see no rhyme or reason in this. Nor could they understand why many living creatures - for instance chimpanzees and humans - have a virtually identical genetic makeup and yet show significant differences in their appearance and skills. We now know that non-coding RNAs play an important role in the differentiation process. Kuhn has analyzed this issue at various levels. Among his early achievements are molecular snapshots of the enzyme RNA polymerase I. This enzyme produces the ribosomal RNAs that are part of the ribosomes, the protein factories. From these snapshots it was possible to derive a model of the enzyme. Kuhn later showed how transfer RNAs, which supply amino acids for protein biosynthesis, brand themselves if they are defective. They employ a special signature to achieve this. Kuhn has also been instrumental in elucidating the structure of a protein termed Argonaute 2. This protein modulates protein biosynthesis by working together with short RNAs to cleave complementary mRNAs. Kuhn is now working on RNAs that turn genes on and off. These findings could well advance our medical state of the art.

Short biography of Dr. Claus-Dieter Kuhn

Claus-Dieter Kuhn, age 37, was born in Mutlangen (close to Stuttgart, Germany), began studying biochemistry in Regensburg and completed his Master's degree in chemistry at the University of Stockholm in Sweden. For his PhD work Kuhn moved to the Gene Center of the University of Munich (LMU) in Germany. From Munich he went to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA. He interrupted his stay there in 2009 to spend a year working for Proteros Biostructures GmbH, a company based in Munich. In 2010 Kuhn returned to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Since fall 2014 he is at Bayreuth University where he heads a Junior Research Group at the Research Center for Bio-Macromolecules. His work is supported by the Elite Network of Bavaria. Claus-Dieter Kuhn has won numerous prizes, among them a gifted student scholarship of the Wilhelm Narr Foundation and a Kekulé Fellowship from the German Chemical Industry Fund (FCI). He was a fellow of the Jane Coffin Childs Memorial Fund for Medical Research based at Yale University. Moreover, he participated in two graduate programs and was awarded the Römer Prize of the University of Munich.

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Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers

The Paul Ehrlich and Ludwig Darmstaedter Prize for Young Researchers, awarded for the first time in 2006, is conferred once a year by the Paul Ehrlich Foundation on a young investigator working in Germany for his or her outstanding achievements in the field of biomedical research. The prize money must be used for research purposes. University faculty members and leading scientists at German research institutions are eligible for nomination. The selection of the prizewinner is made by the Scientific Council on a proposal by the eight-person selection committee.

The Paul Ehrlich Foundation

The Paul Ehrlich Foundation is a legally dependent foundation which is managed in a fiduciary capacity by the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, Frankfurt. The Honorary Chairman of the Foundation, which was established by Hedwig Ehrlich in 1929, is the German Federal President, who also appoints the elected members of the Scientific Council and the Board of Trustees. The Chairman of the Scientific Council is Professor Harald zur Hausen, and the Chair of the Board of Trustees is Professor Dr. Jochen Maas, Head of Research and Development and Member of the Management Board, Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH. Professor Wilhelm Bender, in his function as Chair of the Association of Friends and Sponsors of the Goethe University, is Member of the Scientific Council. The President of the Goethe University is at the same time a member of the Board of Trustees.

Further information

You can obtain selected publications, the list of publications and a photograph of the prizewinner from the Press Office of the Paul Ehrlich Foundation, c/o Dr. Hildegard Kaulen, phone: +49 (0) 6122/52718, email: h.k@kaulen.wi.shuttle.de and at http://www.paul-ehrlich-stiftung.de.

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