DAAD Prize 2017
St. Petersburg to Munich
Daniil Pokrovsky’s PhD work concerns embryological development. He has done a science project at the LMU, organized symposia for graduate students and started a football team at the Biomedical Center. Now, he has won a DAAD Prize.
When I ask Daniil Pokrovsky to tell me about his doctoral research project, he hesitates. But then he outlines the topic in plain language, before adding: “If you can’t explain in simple terms what your research project is about, it’s because you haven’t understood it yourself.”
His project deals with the early development of the frog embryos, he says. More specifically, he is studying the molecular roles of epigenetics (i.e. reversible functional modifications of the genome which, unlike mutations, do not change its sequence) in the Xenopus laevis embryos. The primary difficulty lies in the fact that the epigenetic states of cells and tissues cannot be visualized and monitored under the microscope, he explains. And the epigenetic system is exquisitely sensitive: “If one alters variable x, then – unfortunately - not just variable y changes. Instead, the whole system reacts.” This is basic research, but it may someday help us to understand variations in the gene expression profiles of different, for example congenital, diseases transmitted from one generation to the next.
Daniil obtained his Bachelor‘s and Master’s degrees in St. Petersburg. When he was finishing his Master’s project, he attended a Life Science Summer School at LMU – and was bowled over by it. “In particular, I was fascinated by the technical organization, the guidance we received and the interaction and collaboration with the other participants and with students here. And I was able to spend a great deal of time in the laboratory.” Munich itself also impressed him and was an important factor in his decision to do his PhD here: The city is international, and it too is well organized and therefore trustworthy. Munich is simply the best place for my research,” he says.
In spite of his dedication to research, Daniil finds time for other pursuits, from which others also benefit. The first thing that occurs to him in this context is his role in setting up a football team at the Biomedical Center. “We now play every Thursday,” he says. “I love it – especially working out strategy and tactics.” He also participated in a DAAD RISE Germany Exchange Program. He supervised for 3 months an undergraduate student from the USA. “Although we began the project with very different levels of knowledge, we really had a great time together in the lab,” Daniil recalls. “We had lots of discussions, did lots of experiments and made some discoveries." He has also coordinated interdisciplinary meetings for PhD students, which were primarily focused on how to present and communicate one’s own research in an effective and professional manner. Ethical problems were also on the agenda, including topical issues such as prejudice and stereotypes. "We all work in research, and research is an international endeavor. Prejudices have no place in research.”