TCD Listed as one of Five Most Beautiful Universities in the World

You wouldn’t want to skip a class in these breathtakingly beautiful schools

By Sophia Lam

Schools are probably the last place that come to mind when you’re planning for an escape – especially if they are what you’re escaping from in the first place – but these postcard-like campuses will make you wish you were back to school again. Here are some of the most beautiful universities around the world, and some tips on how to plan your itinerary.

Trinity College, Dublin

Trinity College in the autumn. Photo: Hernán Piñera/Flickr Creative Commons

Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College in Dublin stands alongside Oxbridge among the seven ancient universities in Britain and Ireland. The academic complex is infused with serenity, despite being located at the centre of the capital just across the street from the Irish Houses of Parliament. The campus, spanning 190,000 square metres, features a mix of old collegiate architecture on the west side, and modern establishments on the east. It was ranked by Forbes as one of the 15 most beautiful college grounds in the world in 2010.

Up your game at the library of Trinity College, the largest research library in Ireland. Being a legal deposit library, it is legally entitled to a copy of every book published in Britain and Ireland, accounting for its staggering volume of six million printed materials including an extensive collection of manuscripts, music scores and maps.

The Long Room in Trinity College, Dublin. Photo: Keith Ewing/Flickr Creative Commons

The Old Library, a masterpiece of Irish architect Thomas Burgh within the library complex, houses the precious Book of Kells and has become one of the most frequented tourist attractions in the country. Before you lose yourself among the hefty shelves of books, grab a book and read the afternoon away in the Long Room, a 65-metre-long main chamber adorned with marble busts of philosophers and writers under a luxurious barrel-vaulted ceiling. Tips for those who want a quick selfie with your idol’s bust: find out the location of every bust on the library’s official website before your visit.

While you’re there … explore the many whisky distilleries around town, including the Old Jameson Distillery, which has stopped running for a while but offers guided tours, a re-enactment of whisky making, and a sampling of various scotches and whiskies.

University of Salamanca, Spain

Statue of Fray Luis de León at the University of Salamanca. Photo: Jorcolma/Flickr Creative Commons

If you are a history buff, you would have heard of the Unesco World Heritage city of Salamanca, and the oldest university in Spain located in the city.

The University of Salamanca dates back to the early 12th century when the Cathedral school was recognised as a “General School of the Kingdom” by King Alfonso IX. The school has been the cradle of many notable figures in history, including Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, and Aristides Royo, president of Panama (1978 – 1982).

The ornate plateresque facade of the university overlooks the giant statue of Fray Luis de León, an Augustinian friar and academic who assumed the post of vice rector at the university in mid-15th century. If you go deep into the maze of baroque architecture, you can still find his classroom preserved in the school’s old building.

The city of Salamanca. Photo: Laura Tomàs Avellana/Flickr Creative Commons

While you’re there … delve into the history and culture of Salamanca, where you will find 12th century cathedrals, Dominican monasteries and the Roman bridge, which dates back to as early as 89 A.D.

Flagler College, Florida

Flagler College in Florida. Photo: Chris M Morris/Flickr Creative Commons

This is a school where one could have actually taken a vacation a century ago. The predecessor of the Flagler College is the old Ponce de León Hotel, built by architects John Carrère and Thomas Hastings in 1888. Voted by Travel+Leisure as “the most beautiful college in Florida”, Flagler College is a private liberal arts college in St Augustine some miles off the coast of Florida.

The 129 year-old establishment, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is an illustration of the Spanish Colonial Revival architectural style which resulted from the Spanish rule in St Augustine starting from the 15th century.

Looking up into the dome in the lobby of Flagler College. Photo: CurtisReese/Flickr Creative Commons

The front facade of the building, with a striking orange roof covered in clay tiles and irregularly shaped chimneys, opens to a luscious courtyard filled with bushes and pine trees. Small classes are sometimes held on the lawns.

While you’re there … join one of St Augustine’s infamous creepy crawls that will take you on a walk featuring tales of ghosts, romance and murder in this old city founded by Spanish explorers.

University of Cape Town, South Africa

A view of the Upper Campus of the University of Cape Town, from the other side of the rugby field. Photo: Adrian Frith/Wikimedia Commons

The highest-ranked university in Africa has the advantage of being surrounded by one of the world’s most picturesque landscapes. Founded in 1829 as a boys’ school, the University of Cape Town is the oldest tertiary education institute in South Africa.

Propped against the slopes of Devil’s Peak, the main teaching campus began construction in 1928, based on the blueprint designed by architect JM Solomon. The compact campus converges upon the Jameson Hall – fondly known to students as “Jammie” – which serves as the location for major ceremonies and examinations and stands out in the hilly backdrop with its distinctive triangular pediment and classic white columns.

While you’re there … pay a visit to the contemporary art galleries that litter the suburban Woodstock at the foot of Devil’s Peak, an area that is quickly rising to become the city’s latest art hub.

The University of Oxford

Christ Church College, Oxford. Photo: Dmitry Dzhus/Flickr Creative Commons

The oldest university in the English-speaking world made our list for not only the beauty that meets the eye, but also that of the imagination it inspires.

The 11th century labyrinth of cloisters, pillars and alleys has been the muse of many writers and directors – some modern instances include the parallel universe of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy set at the Exeter College, and a Christ Church College’s cameo in the Harry Potter series.

Four architectural masterpieces on Chinese university campuses
The chapel of Exeter College, Oxford. Photo: Lawrence OP/Flickr Creative Commons

Do not miss the Radcliffe camera, built in the 17th century to be the university’s science library which has now retired to become a reading room for the Bodleian Library. The Camera, which stands for “room” in Italian, epitomises a traditional circular library with its dome and vaulted stone ceiling. It is occasionally open to the public in summertime, but is otherwise restricted to students and staff.

The Radcliffe Camera, from the tower of St Mary’s Church. Photo: Alison Day/Flickr Creative Commons

While you’re there … drop by Alice’s Shop, a quaint stonewalled gift shop at 83 St Aldate’s which was featured in Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking Glass as the Old Sheep Shop. Alice fans will enjoy the thrill of rummaging for Alice-related souvenirs before enjoying a Mad Hatters tea party at Café Loco next door.

Researchers in Ireland Report – Autoimmune Disease Impacted by Circadian Rhythms

Researchers in Ireland report that immune responses and regulation of autoimmunity are affected by the time of the day when the immune response is activated. Understanding the effect of the interplay between 24-hour day–night cycles and the immune system may help inform drug-targeting strategies to alleviate autoimmune disease, say the scientists who published their study (“Loss of the Molecular Clock in Myeloid Cells Exacerbates T Cell-Mediated CNS Autoimmune Disease”) in Nature Communications.

Using mice as a model organism, they show that a master circadian gene, BMAL1, is responsible for sensing and acting on time-of-the-day cues to suppress inflammation. Loss of BMAL1, or induction of autoimmunity at midday instead of midnight, causes more severe experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis, which is essentially an analog of multiple sclerosis in mice.

“Loss of myeloid BMAL1 or midday immunizations to induce EAE [experimental autoimmmune encephalomyelitis] create an inflammatory environment in the CNS through expansion and infiltration of IL-1β-secreting CD11b+Ly6Chi monocytes, resulting in increased pathogenic IL-17+/IFN-γ+ T cells,” say the investigators. “These findings demonstrate the importance of the molecular clock in modulating innate and adaptive immune crosstalk under autoimmune conditions.”

“In the year that the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded for discoveries on the molecular mechanisms controlling the circadian rhythm, our exciting findings suggest that our immune system is programmed to respond better to infection and insults encountered at different times in the 24-hour clock,”says Kingston Mills, Ph.D., professor of experimental immunology at Trinity College, Dublin. “This has significant implications for the treatment of immune-mediated diseases and suggests there may be important differences in time of day response to drugs used to treat autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis.”

Although further investigations are needed to understand how to precisely modulate circadian rhythm or time-of-the-day cues for beneficial immunity, our findings serve well to remind us the importance of “keeping the time” when dealing with the immune system, he adds.

“Our study also shows how disruption of our body clocks, which is quite common now given our 24/7 lifestyle and erratic eating and sleeping patterns, may have an impact on autoimmune conditions,” notes Annie Curtis, Ph.D., of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland. “We are really beginning to uncover exactly how important our body clocks are for health and well-being.”

Trinity Researchers Harness New Technology to Find Improved ways of Understanding MND

Researchers combine EEG and MRI to monitor brain changes.


Our brains function by electrical and chemical signalling. Recording brain wave patterns can be very helpful in conditions like epilepsy, but the potential of this inexpensive and easily applied technology has not been fully recognised.Researchers in the Academic Unit of Neurology at Trinity College Dublin have been studying brain wave patterns in the neurodegenerative condition Motor Neuron Disease (MND). They have made the surprising discovery that some specific parts of the brain are “over-connected” in MND, while other parts show reduced activity as the brain networks disintegrate.

A previous study by the Trinity group had indicated the potential changes in EEG recordings. The new findings considerably advance our understanding of the brain regions that start to get overconnected as the disease progresses, and how they relate to the death of the motor neurons. These changes in comparison to the healthy brain indicated new dynamics of the disease in the brain and have revealed some previously unrecognised abnormalities in the brain.

Their findings, published in the recent issue of the journal Cerebral Cortex imply that MND, along with other neurodegenerative conditions, are associated with important changes in neural communication between different brain networks, rather than changes in a single region of the brain. The new discoveries are pointing to the mechanisms in the brain that are associated with the disease, that were not previously taken into account, assuming that MND is simply a focal isolated degeneration in certain parts of the brain.

“Understanding how the networks in the human brain interact in health and disease is a very important area that has not been adequately researched” said Dr Bahman Nasseroleslami, Senior Research Fellow and Neural Engineer, who is the lead author of the study.

“Using EEG to decipher changes in brain function has not been possible until recently. The computational power, mathematical and statistical tools were just not available.  But our findings have shown that we can now explore the living human brain in a very sophisticated and non-invasive way, and that we can link our dynamic EEG changes with anatomical changes captured by MRI. This expands enormously our ability to understand how the brain is working in real-time, and how these changes in brain networking correlate with structural changes that we can see on MRI scans. This is breakthrough science”.

“These findings will change how we study MND” said Professor Hardiman, Head of the Academic Unit of Neurology in Trinity. “Our identification of specific changes in brain wave patterns in different forms of neurodegeneration will allow us to develop new drugs, and monitor the effects of these drugs in ways that have not been possible up to now.”

Professor Hardiman continued: “Our findings will revolutionise how we measure changes in brain function in MND and many other related neuro-degenerations such as frontotemporal dementia.  Our findings will also help in understanding the links we have shown previously between MND and schizophrenia. There is much to do, but this is the first step in developing new and innovative measurements that will have a major impact on how we conduct future clinical trials.”

There are 120 number of new cases of MND diagnosed in Ireland every year. 350 people are living with the condition in Ireland.

Media Contact

Yolanda Kennedy, Press Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences | | +353 1 896 4337

Trinity Student Announced as Winner of Financial Times ‘The Future of Europe Project’

Marie Sophie Hingst, a PhD candidate at the School of Histories and Humanities and a graduate fellow at the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute from 2015 to 2017 has been chosen as the winner from Trinity College in the Financial Times competition ‘The Future of Europe Project’.


Hingst wrote her winning article, entitled “Europeans should not abandon a collective identity”, which was published by the financial times on November 23. The article which looks at the idea of a common European identity and Europe’s four founding freedoms was selected as one of the six winning submissions, each chosen by a panel consisting of both Financial Times journalists and external judges.


The competition named ‘The Future of Europe Project’ was a collaboration between the Financial Times, the participating students and their professors, aiming to give a voice to some of Europe’s brightest young minds, whilst allowing them the opportunity to engage in the ever growing conversation concerning the future of Europe. Six European universities participated in the competition, Sciences Po in Paris, Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Bocconi in Milan, Trinity College Dublin, The Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and The Athens University of Economics and Business.


Professors from each university supplied students with the chance to write on one of four questions regarding the future of the EU. The four options to chose from asked: Should the next frontier for Europe be deeper integration, or handing back some power to nation states? Would it be wise to reconsider the four founding freedoms in the EU treaties? Is it time to concentrate on the Eurozone rather than the broader EU27? And to what extent is German leadership of Europe desirable or necessary? The departments in each college selected three articles for submission to the Financial Times, leaving a total of 18 finalists for the judges to pick just six winners from.


In her winning article, Marie Sophie Hingst asks if there is a common European way of life and discusses how we can see both a common European identity and a set of shared European values. She discusses how this shared identity can be used as a way of linking Ierapetra in Crete, the EU’s southernmost town with the small Irish Port of Dingle in County Kerry, the EU’s westernmost settlement. Her essay looks back more than two centuries to Edmund Burke’s 1796 statement on Europe for inspiration, written during a time when the continent found itself in a crippling period of violence and war, despite which he still said “No European could be a complete exile in any part of Europe”.
With the words of Burke acting as influence, Marie Sophie Hingst argues Europe isn’t “a religious, a political or historical construct but a call for a constant civilizational sensibility for each other. A sense of urgency that links the cheese-monger in Kerry with the winemakers of Bordeaux.” The winning article finishes by reminding us that Burke’s words are as true today as they were in the 18th Century. “The four founding freedoms of the European Union are as debatable as they are unquestionable: giving them up for reconsideration would make every single one of us an exile in any part of Europe.”

By Shane Hughes

Irish Scientists Identify Genetic Factor in Schizophrenia Diagnosis

Researchers from the Smurfit Institute of Genetics at Trinity College Dublin and the Department of Psychiatry at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland have identified a genetic factor which contributes to the development of schizophrenia.

In conjunction with scientists at Cardiff University, Stanford University, Stanley Medical Research Institute and Duke University, the Irish team established that there exist abnormal vessels which essentially threaten the structure which delivers blood to the brain – a factor which can give rise to the development of the mental health disorder.

Focussing on a chromosomal abnormality known as 22q11 deletion syndrome, researchers ascertained that changes to these genes can affect the blood brain barrier, and leaves those with the syndrome 20 times more likely to develop schizophrenia.

Dr Matthew Campbell, Assistant Professor in Neurovascular Genetics at Trinity, provided an insight into the significance of the discovery, and the impact it can have on those living with the condition.

“The concept of tailoring drugs to regulate and treat abnormal brain blood vessels is a novel treatment strategy and offers great potential to complement existing treatments of this debilitating disease,” he said.

Elaborating on the use of cardiovascular drugs in the treatment of cerebral conditions, he added: “While it is very well accepted that improving cardiovascular health can reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks, we now believe that drugs aimed at improving cerebrovascular health may be an additional strategy to treating brain diseases in the future.”

The findings have been published in the journal of Molecular Psychiatry.

by Niamh McClelland

TCD scientists discover how ‘natural killer’ cells target cancer

Findings may explain why people with obesity have impaired capacity to fight disease

Kevin O’Sullivan


Scientists at Trinity College, Dublin have worked out how a biological engine that powers cancer-killing cells functions.

Crucially, their research highlights how that engine is fuelled and confirms the presence of cholesterol-like molecules act as a “cut-off” switch, making it hard for our “natural killer” (NK) cells in the body to act against cancer. This is particularly so with patients that have cancer and are obese.

The scientists, led by Dr David Finlay, assistant professor in immunometabolism at TCD, have published their findings in the journal Nature Immunology. They outline a previously unknown metabolic switch, which is essential for initiating the anti-tumour actions of NK cells. These are immune cells that play an important role in defences against cancer, as they can directly kill tumour cells.

Once activated – eg by proteins known as cytokines which occur with inflammation – NK cells increase uptake of cellular fuel, which is then converted into energy which powers the all-important tumour-killing machinery.

The research shows activated NK cells use a very different engine configuration to that observed in other immune cells, and that the key factor that switches NK cells to this engine configuration is a protein called an SREBP.

Similar to cholesterol

When the scientists used oxysterols, which are very similar to cholesterol, to prevent this switch from activating, NK cells failed to kill tumour cells.

Dr Finlay said: “The function of SREBP – the key factor that controls the energy production in natural killer cells and thus fuels their activity – is known to be blocked by cholesterol and cholesterol-like molecules called oxysterols. Therefore, our findings reveal a previously-unknown way by which the cancer-killing functions of natural killer cells can be disrupted.”

As tumour cells can produce oxysterols and cholesterol, and levels tend to be higher in people with obesity, the scientists believe they may now have part of the explanation for why NK cells typically perform poorly in patients living with cancer and obesity.

“The next step is to investigate whether the functions of NK cells are indeed impaired in individuals with high cholesterol level, and whether cholesterol-lowering interventions can restore NK cell function in these individuals,” Dr Finlay added.


Founder of Wikipedia to headline event at Trinity College Dublin

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales with U2’s Bono

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is set to take part in a talk at Trinity College Dublin next October.

The Alabama native, who previously ranked as one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people is set to discuss the fight against fake news, the launch of his recent news website WikiTRIBUNE, and how threats to online knowledge-sharing can be combatted with evidence-based journalism.

The event celebrates Ireland’s Internet Day in Trinity College Dublin on Thursday, October 26 and tickets can be booked online.

Now in its third year, Ireland’s Internet Day, aims to promote awareness, knowledge, use and understanding of the internet in Ireland by its citizens, businesses and communities.

It highlights the achievements of Irish and international internet entrepreneurs and the impact on society of the internet innovations and technologies.

Mr Wales, founded the free encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, in 2001. Wikipedia is the fifth most visited website globally and counts half a billion unique visitors each month.

Mr Wales is also the president of Wikia, a for-profit wiki hosting company that allows users to build their own specialised wikis typically relating to a specific interest or ‘fandom’.

On a mission to combat the rise of ‘fake news’ with evidence-based journalism, this year Mr Wales will launch WikiTribune.

Jimmy Wales’s Internet Day address will take place on Thursday, 26 October at 18:15 in the MacNeill Theatre, Hamilton Building, Trinity College Dublin. Tickets cost €15, with all proceeds going to CoderDojo, the volunteer programming club for young people. Click here to book your ticket.

World’s biggest climate innovation summer school comes to Trinity

ourney, the world’s biggest climate innovation summer school, comes to Trinity College Dublin this week. The EU-funded climate innovation summer school is run by Climate-KIC, Europe’s largest climate innovation agency.

The 2017 Journey programme enables over 320 students and professionals from all over the world to travel to some of the best universities in Europe. For the first time, Trinity will host 40 Journey students for 11 days.

More than 240 climate-positive business ideas have been generated by over 1,200 Journey participants since 2010, with an increasing number of students successfully continuing on to Climate-KIC’s pre-incubation, accelerator and other start-up programmes.

The 40 students hosted by Trinity started their Journey in Paris at L’Ecole Polytechnique and Universite Pierre and Marie Curie. They will spend their final week at Riga Technical University in Latvia, where they will take part in a pitch competition to present a climate-positive business idea, which they will have developed during their time here.

The Journey 2017 participants interact with researchers, start-ups, government officials and large corporations, get up-to-date briefings on the latest climate change science and policy, and learn about cutting-edge adaptation and mitigation technologies and solutions.

Photo by Patrícia Cassol Pereira on Unsplash.
Photo by Patrícia Cassol Pereira on Unsplash.

The Dublin Journey

Trinity College Dublin has set up a series of expert lectures, workshops and innovation field-visits. Students will have the opportunity to learn from one of the most influential proponents of climate justice and former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, when she kicks off the programme with an opening lecture.

While in Dublin students will learn about: innovative solutions in sustainable finance (Dublin is emerging as a global hotspot in this sector); sustainable land use; smart cities; circular economy; the cluster approach to innovation; waste management; advanced design thinking.

To prepare for the pitch competition in their final week, participants will also take part in venture creation workshops and pitch training while they are in Dublin, and learn to work in multidisciplinary and international teams to ideate and deliver a climate-related business plan.

Students will participate in workshops with Iain Stewart, Professor of Geoscience Communication at the University of Plymouth. Professor Stewart is a presenter of science programmes for the BBC — notably the BAFTA nominated Earth: The Power of the Planet. He will also give an opening speech at an ice-breaker event in the Science Gallery on Monday August 14th, 6-8 pm.

Students will also participate in a Dublin Bay Biodiversity cruise and walking tours of Dublin to learn about local solutions in smart cities, sustainable transport, and sustainable food.

Sustainable Nation is the local Climate-KIC partner for The Journey at Trinity College Dublin. Created through a 2015 merger of Ireland’s Green International Financial Services Centre (Green IFSC) and The Green Way, Sustainable Nation is leading the cleantech cluster in Ireland’s capital city. Through their collaboration with Climate-KIC UK & Ireland they are stimulating greater investment into smart innovations, new enterprises and sustainable business practices.

You can follow all Climate-KIC Journey news across Europe, including that relating to the pitch competitions for all 320 participants by keeping an eye on #climatejourney17 on Twitter.

Media Contact

Thomas Deane, Press Officer for the Faculty of Engineering, Mathematics and Science | | +353 1 896 4685

Trinity Scientists unearth cell ‘checkpoint’ that stops allergic diseases

Scientists from Trinity College Dublin have made a significant breakthrough in understanding the regulation of immune cells that play a pivotal role in allergic diseases such as asthma and eczema. They have identified a ‘checkpoint’ manned by these immune cells that, if barred, can halt the development of the lung inflammation associated with allergies.

The discovery now provides a potential new target for drug developers to home in on. In theory, a drug that successfully regulates this newly pinpointed ‘checkpoint’ would better control overly aggressive allergic responses.

The team of scientists was led by Science Foundation Ireland Stokes Professor of Translational Immunology, Padraic Fallon, of the School of Medicine in the Trinity Biomedical Sciences Institute. The work has just been published in the leading peer-reviewed medical journal The Journal of Experimental Medicine (paper DOI: 10.1084/jem.20170051).

Allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema, arise when the immune system misfires and sparks an uncontrolled response to common allergens, such as house dust mites. In asthma this aberrant immune response leads to immune cells infiltrating the lungs, where they cause inflammation that affects lung function and leads to difficulties in breathing.

One key cell that is an early initiator of this allergic inflammation is known as a ‘type 2 innate lymphoid cell’ (ILC2). These cells instruct others, known as ‘Th2 cells’, to drive the cascade of inflammation in the lungs that leads to the development of asthma.

In this study, using a mouse transgenic approach, the scientists demonstrated that ILC2s express a checkpoint molecule, known as‘PD-L1’, that functions to control the expansion of allergy-inducing Th2 cells and the development of allergic pulmonary and gut tissue inflammation.

Professor Fallon said: “This identification of an early stage cellular checkpoint that can act as a break on allergic responses has important implications for the development of new therapeutic approaches for asthma and other allergic diseases.”

First author of the paper, Dr Christian Schwartz, a European Molecular Biology Organization Long Term Fellow in Professor Fallon’s group, added:  “It is fascinating that a small cell population such as the ILC2s can regulate the expansion of Th2 cells and thereby shape the whole outcome of an immune response – be it beneficial in case of parasitic infections, or detrimental as in the case of allergic responses.”

“I believe the more we learn about these delicate cellular networks the more possibilities we will create for intervention.”

The National Children’s Research Centre, Science Foundation Ireland and the The Wellcome Trust supported Professor Fallon’s research. Dr Schwartz is a recipient of a European Molecular Biology Organization Long Term Fellowship.

At TCD, Viewing protein folding helps scientists home in on neurodegenerative disease

A team of international researchers led by Professor in Physics at Trinity, Martin Hegner, an Investigator in CRANN, has for the first time observed how proteins fold while being produced in real time.

The work has significant implications for understanding protein synthesis generally, and particularly in neurogenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The team’s findings have just been published in the prestigious journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The article can be read here.

Professor Hegner’s work focuses on individual ribosomes, which are complex molecules that use genetic information to assemble proteins. There can be several million ribosomes in a typical human cell and they are about 20 nanometres in diameter. The assembly of proteins is crucial for a healthy functioning body as all the proteins in our bodies must fold into complex shapes to do their job.

While protein synthesis is of fundamental importance in cellular processes, how they are created is not fully understood. One of the events that occurs during protein synthesis is “folding”, where the chains of amino acids (polypeptides) fold into their final 3-dimensional structures.

Single ribosome assay.
Single ribosome assay.

Several neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s) and many allergies are believed to result from misfolded proteins. This research is thus important in developing further understanding of such conditions and in developing drugs that can target and prevent certain foldings. There has been interest expressed in Professor Hegner’s work by pharmaceutical companies.

Professor Hegner said: “The ribosome translation machinery is a highly complex system, involving many different factors such as energy input, messenger RNA decoding, amino acids, as well as their relative movements and interactions. Investigating this system at the single-molecule level required a highly ambitious and multi-faceted approach that pushes the boundaries of what is technically possible.

“We have identified key mechanisms within individual ribosomes using our unique optical tweezer instrumentation, of which there are only approximately five world-wide. Our expertise in the design of the device and the biological experiment, along with colleagues in Germany enabled us to “grab” the ribosome and the nascent protein chain and provided sufficient stability and sensitivity to observe the synthesis and folding of single polypeptides in real time at the nanometer scale. This was the first time this was observed world-wide and it is very significant to the research community and in developing more in-depth understandings of protein synthesis, – folding and certain diseases.

Professor Hegner was awarded a Science Foundation Ireland Principal Investigator award in 2016, valued at €1.3m, which will enable him to continue his work in this field.

The structure of the ribosome at atomic resolution was only determined in 2000, for which the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2009.