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News archive Prof. Dr. Michael N. Hall

September 05, 2023

Two SNSF Ambizione Fellowships for the Biozentrum

This year, two young scientists from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, have been awarded a prestigious Ambizione Grant from the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF). Florent Waltz will explore the biology and evolution of mitochondria, the cellular powerhouses, in photosynthetic organisms like plants and algae. Amir Saei is investigating how polyamines, natural metabolites found in human cells, promote tumor growth.

New Ambizione Fellows: Dr. Florent Waltz and Dr. Amir Saei.

The new Ambizione fellow Dr. Florent Waltz, project leader in Prof. Ben Engel’s team, will study the molecular architecture of mitochondria and their interaction with chloroplasts, the site of photosynthesis, in more detail. Using cutting-edge technologies such as cryo-electron tomography, he aims to gain fundamental insights into how these vital organelles adapt and remodel to efficiently produce energy and fix carbon under changing environmental conditions. His project entitled "Visualizing native interactions between two bioenergetic compartments in photosynthetic organisms" will be funded with about 940’000 Swiss francs.

“I am thrilled that the SNSF acknowledges the potential of my planned research with this grant. It constitutes a major step towards establishing myself as an independent researcher”, says Florent Waltz. “I want to thank my colleagues for their unwavering support, and I am very much looking forward to starting my junior group and continuing my research at the Biozentrum.”

Educated in molecular biology and biotechnology, Dr. Florent Waltz obtained his PhD from the University of Strasbourg, France, in 2018. Subsequently, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at INSERM, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, where he was introduced to structural biology. In 2021, he joined the group of Prof. Ben Engel at the Helmholtz Pioneer Campus in Munich, Germany, and then moved with the lab to the Biozentrum, University of Basel. The French scientist is a recipient of postdoctoral fellowships from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation. 

The second Ambizione grantee, Dr. Amir Saei, is a project leader in Prof. Michael N. Hall’s group and interested in cancer metabolism. In his SNSF-funded project " Identifying and targeting the pro-tumor functions of polyamines in cancer ", he is investigating how certain cellular metabolites so-called polyamines promote tumor growth. These metabolites accumulate in several types of cancer and support cancer progression and metastasis. To answer his question, he will apply state-of-the-art proteomics technologies to identify the targets of polyamines in the cell and elucidate their role in tumor growth, particularly in hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), one of the most fatal types of cancer. The project will be supported with about 930,000 Swiss francs over the next four years. 

Amir Saei holds a Doctorate in Pharmacy and later earned his PhD in Medical Science from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2019. He has received several research prizes and fellowships, including a Swedish Research Council postdoctoral grant for joint fellowship with Harvard Medical School and Karolinska Institutet. In July 2022, he joined the Biozentrum as a postdoctoral fellow.

Florent Waltz and Amir Saei are two of 97 scientists in Switzerland receiving an SNSF Ambizione Grant this year. In total, 435 Ambizione applications were submitted to the SNF. The Ambizione Fellowships give young scientists the opportunity to carry out their own research project. The funding instrument is aimed at qualified researchers from all disciplines who wish to conduct, manage and lead an independent project at a Swiss higher education institution. The grants are awarded for a maximum of four years. 

Press release Swiss National Science Foundation

Contact: Communications, Katrin Bühler