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60 million Danish kroner for basic biomedical research

Professor Torben Heick Jensen, Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, receives DKK 60 million (Euro 8 million) from the Novo Nordisk Foundation's Challenge Programme to establish the research center 'Exo-Adapt', which will determine how our cells sort genetic information.

Professor Torben Heick Jensen receives DKK 60 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to establish the research center 'Exo-Adapt', which will determine how our cells sort genetic information. Photo: Lisbeth Heilesen.

Our genetic material (the genome) produces RNA that either gives rise to protein or to independent RNA molecules. However, genomic DNA is hyperactive, and only a fraction of the RNA produced ends up as functional molecules - the rest is degraded. Which molecular machines detect and remove undesirable RNA so that cells do not drown in their own molecular waste? That is the question, "Exo-Adapt" will address over the next six years.

In addition to Torben Heick Jensen, who will lead Exo-Adapt, Professor Elena Conti, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried in Germany, and Professor Jens S. Andersen, University of Southern Denmark, will participate in the center.

Speeding up research

Torben Heick Jensen comments: “Conti and Andersen have both contributed with pioneering work within Exosome structural biology and protein characterization by mass spectrometry, and will play central roles in Exo-Adapt. The initiative will thus educate a new generation of students and postdocs across structural, functional and computational biology.”

“With this large grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, my research group will be able to strengthen our collaboration with recognized national and international researchers. We can thus speed up our research, which in the long term will have great biomedical interest,” concludes Torben Heick Jensen.

Dean of Science and Technology Niels Chr. Nielsen welcomes the grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation:

"In order to develop new medicine and solve the world's health challenges, it is important that there is also a focus on basic research in molecular biology and the development of new knowledge, which may prove to be of great importance later. With this grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, our talented researchers have the opportunity to find answers to some fundamental questions about how our cells work and I look forward to following this work in the years to come", says Niels Chr. Nielsen.

Background information

It has been known for some time that the above-mentioned sorting of the cell's RNA is primarily carried out by the so-called Exosome enzyme complex. However, the exosome degrades all the RNA it comes across, and it has therefore been a mystery how the degradation process obtains specificity - ie. how does the Exosome distinguish 'useful' RNA molecules from 'useless' ones?

Over the past ten years, research in Torben Heick Jensen's laboratory has contributed to answering this question by identifying so-called Exosome-Adaptor complexes, which – via their RNA-binding proteins – direct the Exosome to the RNA molecules to be eliminated. The Exo-Adapt initiative will now continue this fundamental research to understand in atomic detail i) how the Exosome and its adapter complexes come together within our cells, ii) how many adapter complexes actually exist, and iii) how these protein complexes find their right substrates among the many different species of cellular RNA. Given the central role of the Exosome in cellular biology, it is also a system, which pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, seek to neutralize. Exo-Adapt will investigate how this happens at a structural level.

Read more about Torben Heick Jensen’s research results

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation's Challenge Programme

With the Challenge Programme, the Novo Nordisk Foundation wants to support and promote world-class research that focuses on contributing to finding answers to today’s challenges in global technology or health.

Read more about the programme.

For further information, please contact

Professor Torben Heick Jensen
Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics, Aarhus University, Denmark
Email: thj@mbg.au.dk; mobile: +45 6020 2705