Christian Berk



August 4, 2020


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Christian Berk

Interview with Christian Berk

Christian Berk, Ph.D.,
ETH Zurich

How did you become interested in the field of oligonucleotides?

Frankly, I did not know much about RNA therapeutics when I joined Jonathan Hall’s group at ETH Zurich. After finishing my studies, I just knew that I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. at the interface of chemistry and biology and that I wanted to work on a topic that offered the flexibility to take research into many different directions. However, I became interested in the field as I read into the literature during the application process and I’m glad that I didn’t refrain from a PhD in nucleic acids research simply because I was not yet familiar with the topic at the time.

Who were your early mentors? What is special about the type of research/work you’ve done?

I would count Peter Leadlay and Fanglu Huang as the people who fundamentally shaped my view and understanding of science. Peter was my supervisor while I was a visiting student in his group at the University of Cambridge and Fanglu guided me along the project. They both not only have a razor-sharp mind but also an unbeatable talent to convey their enthusiasm for science. After my stay in the UK, I joined Jonathan Hall’s group for my Ph.D. Jon’s vast experience with oligonucleotide therapeutics was very helpful to keep the focus on the long-term goals of the project and to understand how the field has developed. In addition, he is a huge source of cheerful anecdotes.

How did you become involved in OTS?

I became involved when I attended the OTS annual meeting in Bordeaux, which was a fantastic event.

Why do you continue to support the OTS?

I think the OTS is an important platform to connect people within the field who have different areas of expertise. Especially the annual meetings are a great opportunity to meet fellow researchers and exchange your thoughts.

What is special about the type of research/work you’ve done?

I liked that my projects were very interdisciplinary and collaborative. I think RNA research in general offers a great opportunity to dive into different topics and establish connections between various disciplines. The main part of my research was focused on siRNAs but we also had a series of interesting projects with the groups of Martin Jinek and Gerald Schwank on different types of CRISPR/Cas systems and a collaboration with Lyndon Emsley’s group in which we used oligonucleotide-coated surfaces as analytes for a novel solid-state NMR based methodology.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I enjoy playing soccer with my friends and particularly in winter I am enthusiastic about skiing, for which Switzerland is a great location.

Any other fun facts/tidbits you would like us to know! (What book you’re currently reading? A unique hobby? The number of frequent flier miles logged?)

One of my most memorable experiences was a 5 days’ hike with a friend in the Torres del Paine National Park during the winter season. I have heard that the park is crowded during the main season but in winter we only met about 3 or 4 people. Several days in a tent in the snow and surrounded by glaciers really gives a different perspective on things.

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