Irina Gutsche is the 2023 Tage Erlander visiting professor

Irina Gutsche is the holder of the 2023 Tage Erlander visiting professorship by the Swedish Research Council. Dr Gutsche spends her time as visiting professor at the Department of Chemistry at Umeå University.

Published: 2023-11-16 Updated: 2023-11-17, 10:59 Text: Nora Lehotai


How would you describe your research? 

"After undergraduate studies in maths and physics, I turned to biophysics because I was curious to unravel fundamental mysteries of life and dreamed that my research yields practical applications on improving human health and solving real-world problems. During the last year of my PhD, I had a chance to work with Jean Lepault, a fantastic scientist who contributed to developments of cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) alongside Nobel laureate Jacques Dubochet. I became fascinated by the beauty of macromolecular complexes, and I have been working with cryo-EM ever since. Our research team focuses on structure, assembly and dynamics of multicomponent systems involved in microbial infection, stress response and signalling. The hallmark of our research is the combination of cryo-EM, and since recently also cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET), with an array of complementary biochemical, biophysical and optical imaging tools. As our main passion revolves around imaging and deciphering the structures of enigmatic and challenging objects, we eagerly engage in collaborations leveraging our expertise to make meaningful contributions towards solving important biological problems." 


How did the collaboration with the Department of Chemistry and Umeå Centre for Electron Microscopy (UCEM) start and how does it look like now thanks to the Tage Erlander visiting professorship? 

"Convinced of the importance of investigating macromolecular assemblies within their functional environments, a few years ago I decided to delve into cryo-ET. The current best way for creating thin cellular lamella for optimal cryo-ET imaging is to use cryo-focused ion beam (cryo-FIB) milling or CEMOVIS technology. However, because no cryo-FIB/scanning electron microscope (SEM) instrument was yet available in Grenoble, I chose to first focus on in vitro reconstituted systems and on bacterial minicells that are thin enough to be imaged directly. A 2020 lockdown introspection led me to realise that, first, I deeply missed learning new things and doing more experiments myself, and second, most of our team’s projects had reached a juncture where a genuine breakthrough and substantial impact could only be achieved by adopting cryo-FIB-milling and cryo-ET imaging of in situ samples. Thus, I decided to step out of my comfort zone, find a cryo-EM facility that has already mastered these techniques, and acquire expertise in cryo-FIB/SEM and experimental cryo-ET. My search led me to the Umeå Centre for Electron Microscopy (UCEM), an excellently equipped Swedish SciLifeLab node, also available for institutes within the Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine thanks to the support by its Swedish node at Umeå University, The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden (MIMS). The contact with UCEM Director Linda Sandblad was both very pleasant and instructive, and, with financial help from MIMS, I was offered an opportunity to visit the facility in 2021-2022, gaining a strong hands-on experience in cryo-FIB and cryo-ET, as well as acquiring preliminary data on two different microbial systems. I very much enjoyed working together with the UCEM staff and was eager to sustain and expand upon this nascent collaboration. In addition, I found myself quickly growing fond of Sweden and Umeå. Therefore, I looked for a possibility to establish a longer-term connection and I am honoured and delighted to have been awarded the 2023 Tage Erlander visiting professorship. My tenure began only in mid-August 2023, and I have already prepared some exciting samples that I hope to image soon. I am also fortunate to live in the picturesque and peaceful neighbourhood of Gammlia within Umeå. I am already aware that when the time comes, I will be reluctant to leave Umeå which has become a cherished home away from home." 


What do you hope to achieve during your time as Tage Erlander visiting professor? 

"I would like to advance three structural microbiology projects of my team, where the need for cryo-FIB and cryo-ET is most urgent. Additionally, I am eager to explore the potential of applying room temperature correlative microscopy techniques to two systems for which they may provide interesting insights complementary to cryo conditions. 

One significant advantage of the Tage Erlander funding is a support for a postdoctoral researcher working closely with the visiting professor. I am very fortunate that one of my former PhD students has chosen to come with me to Umeå - together we can make quicker progress, and it is fun to share the same enthusiasm.  

Over the coming year, my goal is to attain full proficiency in cryo-FIB/SEM and cryo-ET while further strengthening my collaboration with UCEM and with Linda Sandblad’s team. I am also interested in establishing connections with other teams at Umeå University, such as for instance those led by Max Renner and Lars-Anders Carlson, with whom we share a passion for structural virology.  

I am open to exploring new collaborative opportunities and continuing learning. Beyond Umeå, I am aware of several labs, for example in Stockholm and Lund, that I would like to get to know better, and I hope to get opportunities for interactions. I think that this visiting professorship may help to create opportunities and facilitate exchanges. I hope to make a positive contribution to the Swedish structural biology community, and the Swedish colleagues are welcome to visit our team in Grenoble.  

Moreover, although the visiting professorship has just begun, I already feel that time is flying swiftly and that, given the risk of equipment failures, I may not achieve all the scientific goals I have set. Therefore, my main objective will be to strengthen connections and explore avenues for extending collaborations beyond this year. Finally, the cryo-EM platform in the IBS Grenoble is striving to secure funding for a cryo-FIB/SEM machine for the Grenoble Partnership for Structural Biology. I hope to leverage the experience I gain in Umeå to support the Grenoble experts in their efforts to establish this technology on-site."


Tage Erlander visiting professorship 

The decision of the Swedish Research Council: 

“The Swedish Research Council has decided that Irina Gutsche at University of Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, France will be the holder of the 2023 Tage Erlanders visiting professorship.  

The 2023 Tage Erlander visiting professorship has been awarded Irina Gutsche, PhD in biophysics at University of Grenoble Alpes, CNRS, France. During her time in Sweden, she will be active mainly at Umeå University. 

The Tage Erlander visiting professorship is awarded to an internationally prominent researcher in natural and engineering sciences. 

The researcher nominated for the 2023 visiting professorship had to be active within one or several of the following areas: cell biology, developmental biology, microbiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, structural biology, analytical chemistry, physical chemistry, theoretical chemistry, inorganic chemistry, materials chemistry, organic chemistry, bioprocess engineering, chemical engineering, environmental engineering.” 


Irina Gutsche will be installed as Tage Erlander visiting professor 28 November 2023 in Rotundan at Umeå University. Visit the calender event page here


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Contact person:
Irina Gutsche


Nordic EMBL Partnership for Molecular Medicine

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