Michaela Müller-McNicoll Becomes Max Planck Fellow
The fellow program promotes cooperation between Max Planck Institutes and outstanding professors at universities
Michaela Müller-McNicoll, Professor at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, will become a Max Planck Fellow at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Biophysics from March 2024. For five years, she will lead a small research group at the MPI in Frankfurt to investigate RNA, the carrier of genetic information in the cell, and its regulation.
Text: Katharina Kaefer
The Max Planck Society's Fellow Program supports cooperation between researchers at Max Planck Institutes and excellent professors at local universities. Michaela Müller-McNicoll has been maintaining successful collaborations with scientists at the MPI of Biophysics for many years. She is also part of the SCALE consortium in Frankfurt, which the directors and group leaders of the MPI of Biophysics also belong to, and of the International Max Planck Research School on Cellular Biophysics (IMPRS-CBP), a joint interdisciplinary graduate program of the MPI of Biophysics, Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies, founded in 2021. By appointing Michaela Müller-McNicoll a Max Planck Fellow, the MPI of Biophysics strengthens the fruitful cooperation with Müller-McNicoll and the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main.
Michaela Müller-McNicoll Studies the Transmitter of Genetic Information in the Cell
Michaela Müller-McNicoll investigates RNA and its regulation. RNA is a close relative of DNA, which stores the genetic information in the cells of all living organisms. The RNA is responsible for reading out this information from the DNA and transporting it within the cell. This enables the cell to produce proteins that it needs for the metabolism, energy balance or signal transmission based on the genetically stored blueprint. The DNA sections that contain the information for a specific protein are called exons. In between the exons, there are also sections that do not contain any blueprint information and are cut out of the RNA. This process is called splicing. However, the different exons can also be combined in different ways to produce different protein variants. In this process, known as alternative splicing, the cell decides which exons remain in the mature RNA and thus modulates the structure and function of the resulting protein. Müller-McNicoll and her team investigate how these decisions are regulated and what role specific RNA-binding proteins play. They are particularly interested in the role of dynamic architectural elements and cellular compartments in splicing decisions. Under certain conditions, they can separate RNA binding proteins spatially and temporally from the RNA or release them in a targeted manner so that they can participate in splicing. Alternative splicing plays an important role in diseases such as cancer and inflammation, or in stress, e.g. nutrient or oxygen deprivation. Müller-McNicoll’s studies can help to understand how diseases develop and progress, or how cells age.
Michaela Müller-McNicoll Pursues an Outstanding Academic Career
Michaela Müller-McNicoll studied biology at the Humboldt University in Berlin and completed her diploma thesis at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. During her doctorate at the same university, she studied gene expression in Leishmania, unicellular parasites that can also infect humans. Her work was honored with several awards. She then deepened her passion for RNA at the MPI of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden as a postdoctoral researcher. During that time, she received a prestigious fellowship from the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO), which supports excellent scientists in the field of life sciences. In 2014, Müller-McNicoll became a junior professor at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main before being appointed a full professor at the Institute of Molecular Biosciences in 2020. Since 2022, she has been an elected director of the international scientific association RNA Society.