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RNA-based technologies for single-cell metabolite analysis

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MetaRNA (RNA-based technologies for single-cell metabolite analysis)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2019-06-30

Metabolism is the foundation of all living organisms. While cells in a population are often phenotypically different, most of our current analytical approaches still probe metabolism only at the population level. Because strong evidence exists that metabolic cell-to-cell heterogeneity has, for instance, disease relevance, researcher from MetaRNA overcame this severe analytical limitation through exploiting opportunities emerging from the RNA field. Such synergy potential between the metabolism and RNA research fields had until today not been exploited, because they were separated from each other in Europe and worldwide. Through consequently missing research training programs we thus lacked experts with combined knowledge in metabolism and RNA. The aim of the MetaRNA proposal was therefore to establish a European Training Network (ETN) that educates specialists for academia and industry - fully trained at the interface of these two fields - in the development and application of RNA-based sensors to investigate metabolism at the single-cell level, to apply these tools for novel biotechnological applications and to provide a framework for their future use in diagnostics and therapeutics. In MetaRNA, eight research groups from the metabolic and RNA fields and six partners from the private sector joined forces to create a platform of mobility and training to 15 early-stage researchers (ESRs), by means of customized research projects, exchange of knowhow among researchers and partners, attendance to specialized courses, workshops and conferences, as well as training in complementary skills.
In the reporting period, 15 ESRs were trained in the field of metabolism and RNA biology. Training consisted of (i) research training in specialized laboratories, (ii) research courses and transferable skill courses organized by the network, and (iii) courses at the beneficiary sites. In terms of results, MetaRNA ESRs investigated complex metabolic behavior, for which it was necessary to zoom into metabolism of individual cells. In order to be able to visualize the levels of intracellular metabolites in individual cells, other ESRs have developed RNA-based molecular sensors, for which a number of new methods and approaches had to be developed. Finally, other ESRs exploited molecular sensors for biotechnological applications. Overall, important steps at the interface between metabolism and RNA-biology have been made, and young researchers were trained equally well equipped to work in academic or industrial research environments.
Each of the 15 ESRs has pushed the state of the art in the respective research area. New interactions and collaborations between MetaRNA partners have been initiated, with the potential to deliver new insights, methods and applications. The expected socio-economic impact of the MetaRNA ITN is to enhance the attractiveness of a career in front-line academic and industrial research, to provide academic and private-sector employers with researchers skilled in a wide range of techniques and methods, and to produce researchers with excellent transferable skills and able to transform abstract and challenging ideas into influential and practical outcomes, at the interface between the fields of metabolism and RNA in the near and mid-term future.
The ESRs of MetaRNA forming a secondary structure of an RNA