Four questions to Dina Petranovic Nielsen

On May 4 to 8, the most exciting conference week ever takes place at Chalmers. Dina Petranovic Nielsen is coordinator for the Nobel Workshop (May 4 to 6), and CEO of Global Molecular Frontiers (May 7 to 8).

What are your expectations for the conference?

– I have so many expectations!

I expect the guests, participants, and speakers to scientifically enjoy themselves (for free!) at one of the most amazing events I have ever heard of.

I hope that many scientists and high school students will find inspiration and new ideas and concepts that will really be meaningful for their work, or their lives in more general terms.

I except colleagues to exchange ideas and forge new collaborations and interactions, I expect students and generally the public to see the science at its best and inspire them to get involved and to understand how much science/technology/medicine and society go together hand-in-hand.

And of course I expect the city, the region and the country to notice what kind of cool things are going on at Chalmers.

What does the conference mean for molecular research, and for Chalmers?

– This is a chance for Chalmers and the organizing partners to really become much more visible, not only inside Chalmers but also externally. It is also a chance to show the high school students, and other students, that Chalmers is a fantastic place to come and study at. Scientifically, it is always inspiring and creative for scientists to be around other scientists, especially those who are top in their fields, and to have a chance to talk about ideas, explore options and learn from each other. This kind of atmosphere and set-up promotes excellent research in molecular sciences, and in any other research.

How did you get 40 world leading scientists, including 13 Nobel laureates, to say yes to the conference?

– We are very lucky to have professor Bengt Nordén onboard. Bengt has been at Chalmers for many years so he is keen to promote it. He has also been Chair of the Nobel Committee for many years, as well as the founding Chair of Molecular Frontiers Foundation (which is under the umbrella of the Swedish Royal Academy, and anchored at Chalmers). This means he has many contacts with excellent scientists from all over the world and he has a special interest in bringing them to speak to large audiences of different backgrounds, including high school students. Of course, he is a personal friend of many of these people because science is like a glue and a passion that links so many of us.

Molecular research of various kinds is the basis for being able to find solutions to many of humanity's major problems, for example medicine and energy issues. You study molecules in yeast cells. What do we have yeast to thank for so far, and what can we hope that yeast research leads to in the future?

– Well, we all know what yeast can do for us: literally for thousands of years yeast has been supplying the humanity with beer, wine and some types of bread. In the 20th century yeast has become a particularly well-studied organism: it is similar enough to human cells to be of interest, but simpler so it is easier to handle. Several Nobel Prizes in Physiology and Medicine were awarded for discoveries where scientists used yeast (in 2001 for studies of cell cycle control which is important for cell division and cancer; and in 2009 for the role of telomeres and telomerase which is important for ageing and cancer research). In my work I focus mostly on yeast as a model for human neurodegenerative diseases.

Yeast is also a wonderful organism to be used in biotech applications, for example for production of bioethanol but even more for production of more advanced fuels and chemicals (for biodegradable plastics, for medication, for perfume molecules etc). There is a whole range of exciting projects that can use yeast as their model, or as their cell factory, and at Systems and Synthetic Biology at Chalmers we actually work on many of these things. 

Text: Johanna Wilde and Dina Petranovic Nielsen
Photo: Jan-Olof Yxell

Read more about the amazing week at Chalmers:

Published: Tue 28 Apr 2015. Modified: Wed 29 Apr 2015