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The most talented students are awarded the first scholarships in the name of Prof. V. Šikšnys

The most talented students are awarded the first scholarships in the name of Prof. V. Šikšnys

Two PhD students of Vilnius University have been awarded for internationally recognised outstanding results of their scientific activity the scholarship named after Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys, one of the pioneers of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology in the world and a biochemist. The scholarship provided by the City of Vilnius amounts to EUR 10 000. It is hoped that it will stimulate the research of young scientists in the field of life sciences and enable them to apply their discoveries for the benefit of people and the environment.

Impressive scholarships awarded

To raise the profile of Prof. Šikšnys’ achievements and his discovery of ‘gene scissors’ for genome editing, an international scholarship in his name was established in Vilnius in December 2020. Applications for the scholarship were invited at the end of last year and, after reviewing the submissions, a committee selected the two most deserving young scientists to receive the scholarships.

The scholarships were open to third-level (PhD) life science students from all over the world, studying and carrying out their research in the capital of Lithuania.

Prof. V. Šikšnys is pleased that the scholarship will be a good incentive for young scientists to continue their research: ‘I see the scholarship in my name as an important initiative of the city to support talent and to encourage young scientists to continue to actively pursue their work in Vilnius and not elsewhere’.

‘Vilnius is increasingly emerging as one of the world’s leaders in the life sciences, with talented, driven and ambitious professionals. The achievements of Prof. V. Šikšnys and his colleagues have proven that ideas born in our capital can make Lithuania’s name known around the world and make a significant contribution to educational change in the country. With this scholarship, we want to encourage and motivate young scientists whose research and achievements are changing the world and making Vilnius famous’, says Inga Romanovskienė, Head of the Vilnius Tourism and Development Agency ‘Go Vilnius’.

Prof. Gintaras Valinčius, Director of the Vilnius University Life Sciences Center, where Prof. Šikšnys works, notes that with this scholarship, Vilnius recognises the abilities of young scientists: ‘It is very important that the city’s history and culture are highlighted, but also the scientific achievements. It inspires young people to continue their work in the capital’, says Prof. Valinčius.

Significant achievements

This year’s winners of the Professor Virginijus Šikšnys Scholarship are Mantas Žiaunys and Monika Šimoliūnienė, PhD students at the Vilnius University Life Sciences Center.
‘I am researching proteins related to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. I have discovered several methods that have facilitated the laboratory analysis of proteins in these diseases. Some of them can be done up to 10 times faster than standard methods, so I continue to develop them. I hope that in the future they will make a significant contribution to the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. In Lithuania, we have excellent conditions and a motivating, modern environment, we collaborate with colleagues from abroad and we can learn from the experience of our own scientists. I am delighted that my research has received attention and financial encouragement. This is a great initiative and I have no doubt that it will encourage more students in the future,’ says M. Žiaunys, PhD student and scholarship winner.

Monika Šimoliūnienė, another scholarship winner, agrees: ‘When I found out that there was an opportunity to apply for this scholarship, I was very excited. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the field of research in which I work. I have been researching bacterial viruses – bacteriophages – for almost 10 years. Together with my colleagues, I have been searching for them, characterising them and trying to identify mechanisms of infection. I would say it is a rather niche area in Lithuania, but I think it is very important. Not only has research into bacterial viruses laid the foundations for modern molecular biology, but bacteriophages themselves or products based on them can also be widely applied in practice, for example, in the fight against bacteria that have developed resistance to antibiotics, both in the medical field, i.e. in the treatment of human diseases, in the veterinary or animal husbandry industry, and in the control of plant pathogens. I am very pleased that not only my current work in this field has been recognised, but also my future prospects.’

The young scientist says that any recognition and appreciation of her work is a great incentive: ‘This scholarship is one of the biggest in the life sciences field in Lithuania. I believe it is partly a sign of our society’s interest, and it will give every young scientist even more motivation and desire to discover solutions that change the world. Our achievements are certainly comparable not only to our neighbouring countries, but also to those of Western Europe.’

In order to encourage young scientists to continue their research and to expand their knowledge of life processes, the City of Vilnius has pledged to fund the Prof. V. Šikšnys Scholarship for five years.

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