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Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys’ Scholarships Were Awarded to Doctoral Students with Outstanding Achievements in Life Sciences

Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys’ Scholarships Were Awarded to Doctoral Students with Outstanding Achievements in Life Sciences

The nominal scholarships of Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys, a biochemist and one of the world pioneers of CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology, is awarded for internationally recognised outstanding research results. This year, a EUR 10,000 scholarship established by the City of Vilnius has been awarded to VU PhD students Ugnė Kuliešiūtė and Jonas Juozapaitis.

Prof. V. Šikšnys welcomes the initiative of Vilnius city to establish the nominal scholarship, saying that it not only helps to retain young talents but attract new ones as well.

“I am very pleased that the scholarship in my name attests the internationally renowned research work that young researcher have produced in Vilnius, thus promoting both the country and the city,” said Prof. V. Šikšnys.

“Life sciences is a crucial part of the Vilnius TechFusion ecosystem, which significantly contributes to Vilnius’ profile as an advanced technology city, open for business, talent and potential investors. It is very important that for the second year in a row the city encourages and motivates young scientists, whose research, achievements and start-ups are changing the world and making the capital famous. The achievements of Prof. V. Šikšnys and his colleagues have proved that ideas born in Vilnius can make Lithuania’s name known all over the world,” says Inga Romanovskienė, Head of the Vilnius Tourism and Business Development Agency Go Vilnius.

Prof. Daumantas Matulis, Director of the VU Life Sciences Center (VU LSC), notes that this international nominal scholarship not only shows Lithuania’s research achievements, but creates opportunities too.

Important research works

This year, for the second time already, the VU LSC doctoral students Ugnė Kuliešiūtė and Jonas Juozapaitis were honoured with the VU LSC Prof. V. Šikšnys’ Nominal Scholarship.

Jonas Juozapaitis, a PhD student at the VU LSC, studies how bacteria defend themselves against viruses and bacteriophages.

“To understand this, I observe the functioning of antiviral genes in living bacteria, study the purified components of defence systems in a test tube, and try to understand how the structure of the molecules in these systems is related to function. Of course, I am not doing this alone, but together with colleagues in the lab. This research is not only important for expanding fundamental knowledge, but it can also lead to new molecular tools for biotechnology, ways to use bacteriophages against bacterial infections, or even to a better understanding of the human immune system itself,” says Juozapaitis, “At the time when I found out about the scholarship, I was doing lab work and answering questions from students. I quickly glanced at the letter I received and was overjoyed and couldn’t stop smiling. I hope the students didn’t think I found their questions funny.”

Ugnė Kuliešiūtė, a PhD student at VU LSC, studies how neuronal activity depends on a specific sugar molecule, sialic acid.

“Since the entire surface of neurons is covered with a forest of sugar ‘trees’, it determines the activity of neurons, the way they communicate with other neurons, and ultimately brain function. I am studying the role of sialic acid in brain development and in certain diseases such as epilepsy. In epilepsy research, I collaborate with neurosurgeons at Vilnius University hospital Santaros Klinikos, so that I can use not various models, but can directly assess changes in epileptic brain tissue with the consent of the patients,” says Kuliešiūtė. “I’m not sure whether “hoped” is the right word, but I really wanted to get this scholarship. It’s the fourth (last) year of my PhD, so I submitted my application with the idea: when else but now?”

The International Scholarship in the name of Prof. V. Šikšnys was established in Vilnius in December 2020 to make his achievements and the discovery of genome editing by “gene scissors” better known. The scholarship was open to third-level (PhD) life sciences students from all over the world studying and carrying out their research in the capital of Lithuania. In order to encourage young scientists to continue their research and expand their knowledge of life processes, the City of Vilnius has committed to fund the Prof. V. Šikšnys Scholarship for five years.

VU (Simonas Lukoševičius) photo: Prof. Daumantas Matulis, Director of the VU Life Sciences Center (VU LSC), PhD student Jonas Juozapaitis, winner of the scholarship, PhD student Ugnė Kuliešiūtė, winner of the scholarship, and Prof. Virginijus Šikšnys, Chairman of the Council of VU LSC.