Symposium 50 years Molecular Biology in Zurich

On Thursday August 17, 2017, we  have celebrated the founding of the Institute of Molecular Biology at the University of Zurich by Charles Weissmann in 1967.

The event took place at:

University Main Building
Rämistrasse 71
Lecture Hall KOL F 104
8001 Zurich

Sponsors: Ernst Hadorn Stiftung, Berta und Chil Weissmann Stiftung, Julius Klaus Stiftung, University of Zurich (UZH)


50 Years Molecular Biology Zurich, Symposium on August 17, 2017. Photos taken by Tobias Bethge.

Dinner Party of Weissmann Alumni & Partners on August 17, 2017

Dinner Performances by Dieter Meier and Richard Flavell (Videos):

Get-together of Schaffner & Rusconi Alumni on August 16, 2017

Program overview


Speaker Topic
09:30 Michael Hengartner (Rektor UZH) Opening
Morning Session Chair: Walter Schaffner/Martin Billeter
09:40-10:05 Markus Aebi (ETH Zurich) Heterogeneous precision – the pathway of N-linked protein glycosylation
10:05-10:30 Adriano Aguzzi (University of Zurich) Immunobiology of prion diseases
10:30-10:55 Coffee break
10:55-11:20 Roberto Cattaneo (Mayo Clinic) Nectins transfer cytoplasm between cells and spread measles virus to neurons
11:20-11:45 John Coffin (Tufts University) Retroviruses and HIV: Long-lasting lessons learned in Zürich
11:45-12:10 John Collinge (Univ. College London) Reflections on transmissible dementias
12:10-13:40 Noon break. Sandwich lunch provided. The University’s Mensa and the Cafeteria (lower floors in the same building) are also open
Afternoon Session Chair: Martin Billeter/Walter Schaffner
13:40-14:05 Richard Flavell (Yale) From RNA to RNA over 40 years, so what’s new?
14:05-14:30 Maria Jasin (Sloan Kettering) When plagiarism is good: Lessons from homologous recombination
14:30-14:55 Dietmar Kuhl (Zentrum für Molekulare Neurobiologie Hamburg) Arc/Arg3.1, dendrites, and the remembrance of things long past
14:55-15:25 Coffee break
15:25-15:50 Shigekazu Nagata (Osaka University) From interferons to programmed cell death: My never-ending journey from Zürich
15:50-16:15 Tadatsugu Taniguchi (Tokyo University) From Qß to another phage: Regulation of intestinal inflammation by a new bacteriophage
16:15-16:30 Charles Weissmann Concluding remarks
16:30 Apéro at the Lichthof of the University's Main Building

Download the program of the symposium as PDF

The Symposium speakers were asked to provide a short to medium-size CV:

Markus Aebi (ETHZ)

Markus Aebi studied at the ETH Zurich and did his PhD with Ralf Hütter on molecular genetics of yeast. From 1983 to 1987, he was a postdoctoral fellow with Charles Weissmann at the Institute of Molecular Biology I working on RNA splicing. After a second PostDoc at Caltech in the lab of John Abelson, he returned to the Institute of Molecular Biology I as an independent group leader with a START fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. Based on a serendipitous discovery, he initiated work on N-linked protein glycosylation. In 1994, he was appointed professor of Mycology at ETH Zurich. He extended his research interest towards microbial Glycobiology. In 2004, he was awarded the Körber Prize for using the yeast genetic system to establish the molecular cause of human congenital disorders of glycosylation. His current research focuses on the description of general concepts in the process of N-linked protein glycosylation.


Adriano Aguzzi (University Hospital, UZH)

In 1992, Adriano Aguzzi was criticized by the Scientific Advisory Board of the Institute of Molecular Pathology of Vienna for “working on disparate projects and lacking focus”. He took that critique to heart and spent the following 25 years working exclusively on one single protein, PrP AKA the prion protein. He serves on the editorial board of several high-impact journals, as well as on the scientific advisory boards of philanthropic foundations and biomedical companies. Among other honors, Prof. Aguzzi has won the Ernst-Jung Prize, the Robert Koch Prize, the Baillet-Latour Health Prize, and the gold medal of the European Molecular Biology Organization. He has held two Advanced Grants of the European Research Council, and his papers were cited >47’000 times (h-index: 113). At a recent council of the Human Frontiers Science Program, it was explained to him that he will always be ineligible for an HFSP grant “because [he] works since 25 years exclusively on one single protein”.


Roberto Cattaneo (Mayo Clinic)

Roberto Cattaneo received his undergraduate degree from the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and his PhD from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he established the transcription map of hepatitis B virus. During his postdoctoral training on measles virus persistent infections at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, he discovered adenosine-to-inosine hypermutation of viral RNA, and messenger RNA editing by polymerase stuttering. In 1991 Dr. Cattaneo received the Swiss Talents for Academic Research and Teaching award. The goal of Dr. Cattaneo group is to understand virus biology, tropism, and to make viruses into vectors that can deliver genes and treat disease, in particular different types of cancer.  After moving to the Department of Molecular Medicine of the Mayo Clinic in 1999, he established the Virology and Gene Therapy track of Mayo Graduate School.  Basic research highlights include the characterization of how measles virus interacts with its receptors and fuses cell membranes, and the discovery of a receptor mediating virus emergence at an anatomic location facilitating aerosol formation. This “exit receptor” explains why measles is the most contagious human virus.  Roberto Cattaneo has authored more than 140 primary publications, many reviews, and several patents. He serves on the editorial board of several journals, and has held leadership positions in the American Society for Gene and Cell Therapy and the American Society for Virology.  His honors include state-of-the-art lectures at national and international congresses of Microbiology, Virology, and Gene Therapy.  Several of his students and postdoctoral fellows are professors at Universities in Europe and North America.


John Coffin (Tufts University)

John Coffin did his PhD thesis work with the late Howard Temin at the University of Wisconsin and joined the Institut für Molekularbiologie in 1972.  In 1975, he moved to Tufts Medical School in Boston as a member of the Department of Molecular Biology and Microbiology, where he remains today as American Cancer Society Research Professor.  Since his graduate studies, his work has remained focussed on retroviruses, and he has made numerous contributions to understanding their replication, evolution, and host interaction. His discoveries include the “jumping” mechanism of viral DNA synthesis and the process by which these viruses can acquire cellular sequences and turn them into oncogenes. In 1995, he published a very highly cited essay on the HIV-host interaction,  which led,in 1997, to a part time job with the National Cancer Institute as the founding Director of the HIV Drug Resistance Program, with which he is still associated.  In collaboration with the group there, he has been associated with a number of key discoveries on HIV-host interaction, including mechanisms of evolution of resistance to antiviral drugs, and of long-term persistence of HIV despite suppressive therapy.  He was elected to the US National Academy of Sciences in 1999, in recognition of his many contributions to retroviruses and HIV.


John Collinge (University College, London)

John Collinge studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge and Medicine and Neurology in Bristol and London. He is Professor of Neurology at UCL and founded the Medical Research Council (MRC) Prion Unit in 1998 which became the UCL Institute of Prion Diseases in 2017. He also founded and directs the UK National Prion Clinic at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery in London. The MRC Prion Unit had the honour of hosting Charles Weissmann for six years.


Richard A. Flavell (Yale University)

Dr. Flavell is Sterling Professor of Immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine, and an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He received his B.Sc. (Honors) in 1967 and Ph.D. in 1970 in biochemistry from the University of Hull, England, and performed postdoctoral work in Amsterdam (1970-72) with Piet Borst and in Zurich (1972-73) with Charles Weissmann where he developed Site Directed Mutagenesis/ Reverse Genetics. Before moving to Yale in 1988, Dr. Flavell established his lab at the University of Amsterdam (1974-79); then he became Head of the Laboratory of Gene Structure and Expression at the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London (1979-82); and subsequently President and Chief Scientific Officer of Biogen Research Corporation, Cambridge, Massachusetts (1982-88). Dr. Flavell is a fellow of the Royal Society, a member of  EMBO, the National Academy of Sciences as well as the National Academy of Medicine. Dr. Flavell served as the founding Chairman of Yale’s Department of Immunobiology for 28 years, stepping down in early 2016.


Maria Jasin (Sloan Kettering Cancer Center)

Maria Jasin is on the faculty of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York, USA. She graduated with a Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with thesis research in Paul Schimmel’s lab, and did her postdoctoral research at the University of Zürich with Walter Schaffner and Stanford University with Paul Berg. Research in the Jasin lab has  focused on the repair of DNA breaks in chromosomes in several contexts. Her lab performed the first gene editing experiments, which provided the paradigm for approaches for genome modification. Her lab currently investigates homologous recombination mechanisms and the roles of the breast cancer suppressors BRCA1 and BRCA2 and related proteins in this process, chromosomal translocation mechanisms and modeling, and meiotic progression. Professor Jasin is a Member of the US National Academies of Sciences and Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Dietmar Kuhl (ZMNH)

Dietmar Kuhl studied Biology at the University of Frankfurt. In 1984 he came to Zurich to conduct his Ph.D. work on the transcriptional regulation of interferon genes at the Institute of Molecular Biology of Charles Weissmann. In 1989 he was awarded an EMBO long-term fellowship and moved to the Columbia University in New York, where he became a research associate in the department of Eric Kandel. Since then Dietmar Kuhl has been interested in the molecular mechanisms of memory. In 1995 he was awarded a grant to establish his research group in Hamburg. In 2002 he was appointed a professor of physiology and biochemistry at the Freie University in Berlin. Here he was the speaker of Research Training Program “Learning and Memory Consolidation in the Hippocampal Formation” of the German Science Foundation and served on the board of founding directors of the cluster of excellence ‘Neurocure’. In 2008 Dietmar Kuhl accepted an offer to establish the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Cognition at the Center for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg (ZMNH) and served for several years as the director of this center. The main goal of his research is to bring to bear molecular biological approaches to the identification and study of genes contributing to synaptic plasticity in the mammalian brain. Analysis of their expression and regulation indicates a broad role for these genes in neuronal plasticity, including learning and memory, epilepsy, and mental diseases. Several of the genes identified in his laboratory code for proteins that can directly modify the function of neurons and consequently represent promising targets for therapeutic intervention. His research moves from the identification of activity regulated genes to the analysis of long term potentiation in the brain and wants to assess which consequences they convey on the behavior of animals and their capability to learn and store memories. One finding of his research is the identification of Arc/Arg3.1 as a master regulator of synaptic plasticity and long-term memory.


Shigekazu Nagata (Osaka University)

Shigekazu Nagata obtained his Ph.D. in 1977 from the University of Tokyo for the thesis “Purification and characterization of polypeptide chain elongation factor from pig liver”. From November 1977 to December 1981, he did his post-doctoral research at the Institute of Molecular Biology I, University of Zürich, where he was involved in identifying and characterizing the human interferon-alpha gene. In 1982, he returned to the University of Tokyo as an assistant professor, where he identified G-CSF cDNA, and characterized its biological activities. In 1987, he was appointed as the Head of the Molecular Biology Department of Osaka Bioscience Institute, where he characterized G-CSF receptor, and started to work on the current project "apoptosis". In 1995 he became a professor at Osaka University Medical School, in 2007 at the Graduate School of Medicine, Kyoto University, and in 2015 Distinguished Professor of Immunology at the Frontier Center, Osaka University. He was a president of the Japanese Biochemical Society and the Japanese Society of Molecular Biology, and was a councilor for the Human Frontiers Science Program in Strasbourg (HFSP). He is/was as an editorial member of various journals that include Science, Immunity, and Cell Death Differentiation. Awards include the Emil von Behring Prize (Marburg), Robert Koch Award (Bonn), Prix Lacassagne (Paris), Debrecen Award for Molecular Medicine (Debrecen), Keio Medical Science Prize (Tokyo), and the Japan Academy Prize (Tokyo). He was recognized as a Person of Cultural Merit from the Japanese Government in 2001, and obtained a honorary doctoral degree from University of Zürich in 2012. He is a member of The Japan Academy since 2010, and a Foreign Associate of the US National Academy of Sciences since 2015.


Tadatsugu Taniguchi (Tokyo University)

Tada Taniguchi studied in Naples under the supervision of Prof. Massimo Libonati, a very close friend of Prof. Charles Weissmann and alumnus of the Institute of Molecular Biology I. His public debut was at a scientific conference in 1972 held in Rome where he presented his work in Italian. In 1974, he joined the Institute of Molecular Biology in Zurich, initially as Forschungsassistent but then as a Ph.D. student of Prof. Weissmann, where he researched the workings of bacteriophage Qbeta. Tada then returned to Japan, where he isolated the gene for interferon-beta. His research focused on interferon-beta and other cytokines in the context of immunity and cancer at the Cancer Institute, Osaka University and then the University of Tokyo. He is currently Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo and Director of the Max Planck-The University of Tokyo Center for Integrative Inflammology. He is a Foreign Associate Member of the National Academy of Sciences, USA since 2003 and an International Member of the the National Academy of Medicine, USA since 2016. Tada Taniguchi is also a music aficionado and avid Hanshin Tigers baseball fan.