(C) B2Bioworld 2015 - Irene CoinLaboratory Environments and Science

April 2015. Irene Coin has been working in many laboratories. In the interview with B2Bioworld she reflects on different environments impacting scientific research at Universities of Padua (Italy) or Leipzig (Germany), at Arizona’s Biodesign Institute or the Californian Salk Institute for Biological Studies.


B2Bioworld: How was work at the Salk Institute?
Irene Coin: I loved that. Salk is a great place, beside the fact you look directly to the ocean…

In terms of equipment or interacting with colleagues?
I mean, it’s the mentality. Salk is a very, very dynamic environment where you have an idea in the morning and in the evening you have everything you need to start working – you have colleagues who are open, who say: Okay, what do you need? They are sharing equipment. They are sharing ideas.

What’s different to working in the lab at Padova?
Oh, I cannot directly compare it, because there I worked in a pure organic chemistry lab. Though I did a little bit of chemistry at Salk, this was not in a chemistry lab. I worked in the molecular biology lab most of the time, and there you had everything you could wish for such an assignment.

When you arrived at La Jolla, how long did you have to wait until you could start working?
Two hours. That’s an issue of being flexible. When I arrived there were remodelling works in the lab to set up more desk places. So we had to find a temporary solution moving to an adjacent room for a while.

(C) Lei Wang 2013 Lab Members, Salk Institute 2013Irene Coin (4th left) in Lei Wang's (middle) Group

How easy was it to interact with colleagues?
Salk, its labs, they are open!  This is what I really loved. The labs are so big – basically one floor is one lab. So you meet all people in the whole floor just by walking from one instrument to the other.

You were in a molecular biology lab and your research involved collaborating with computation scientists. Was it easy to meet those people from informatics on the grounds?
The modelling we did was not informatics, but molecular modelling which is different. At the time we collaborated with Scripps which was first already having the data we needed. Scripps is just across the road.

Was it difficult to interact with people from other disciplines at Salk?
I haven’t had any problems working in the most distant lab from ours, the lab of Wylie Vale  1). It was just a matter of one email, and in a short time we had a meeting with Wylie. We were intensely working together. That’s fantastic!

What is your view comparing Salk’s research infrastructure to that of the Biodesign Institute at Tempe in Arizona?
The Biodesign is a very new building. It’s more functional.

And compared to a typical German lab, let’s say at Universität Leipzig?
Oh Leipzig! There we have beautiful labs of the 21st century. I mean, the Padovan building was beautiful too. Rooms had even capitals and were decorated all over. However at Salk you have no doors apart of those environments which have to be protected. You just walk across.

Did you write your papers in the Salk lab?
I wrote one paper there and the others upon returning to Germany. It is difficult to focus on writing in the lab. At Salk they do not have separate offices for students. Actually I started to write up this paper in the lab, but then retreated to home where there were fewer distractions. On the other side lab life is much more easy-going at La Jolla. I mean, in Germany people are not allowed out of safety reasons to have lunch in a chemistry lab. In my view, Salk makes optimal use of available space.

Interview Wolf G Kroner

(C) Irene Coin 2015Irene Coin (1975) is research group leader at Universität Leipzig (DE), Institute of Biochemistry since 2014. After obtaining a diploma in music from Conservatorio Arrigo Pedrollo, Vicenza (IT) in 1997 she changed to organic chemistry at Università degli Studi di Padova (IT) in 2002/03. Thereafter she volunteered as chemistry teacher in Mexico for six months to join Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie im Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. (DE) in 2004. Four years later she obtained her Ph.D. in Chemistry (Dr. rer. nat. summa cum laude) from Universität Leipzig. She went to the United States as post-doctoral fellow at the Biodesign Institute (Center for BioEnergetics), University of Arizona to continue at the Salk Institute, La Jolla, CA from 2009 to 2013. That year she returned to Germany on a Marie Curie fellowship to Max-Delbrück-Zentrum at Berlin. Mid-march 2015 she won the “German Life Science Award” offered by Gesellschaft für Biochemie und Molekularbiologie and Roche as a reward for her research on crosslinking techniques applied to class B G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs, in particular Corticotropin releasing hormone receptor 1, CRF1R)  2). Her work offers an important complement to crystallography techniques which are of limited value when applied to highly variable and dynamic proteins like GPCRs  3).

1) Wylie Vale was a professor at the Salk Institute. He died at the age of 70 in 2012. He was reputed for his research on peptide hormones in the brain and their interaction with the endocrine system.

2) Coin I, Perrin MH, Vale WW, Wang L. (2011): Photo-cross-linkers incorporated into G-protein-coupled receptors in mammalian cells: a ligand comparison. Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. Engl. 50: 8077-8081.

3) Coin I, Katritch V, Sun T, Xiang Z, Siu FY, Beyermann M, Stevens RC, Wang L, (2013): Genetically encoded chemical probes reveal the binding path of Urocortin-I to CRF Class B GPCR, Cell, 155, 1258-69.

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