First doctorate within the CLASSY project – Jasper Möhler defended his PhD

We are delighted to congratulate Jasper Möhler from the Wennemers Group at ETH Zurich on defending his doctorate with great success at the end of June 2022. He is the first doctoral candidate part of the CLASSY project to defend his PhD. Jasper joined the CLASSY consortium from the start, during its kick-off in November 2019, and since then has brought key contributions to the project, with his work on tailored peptide catalysts developed for cascade reactions. In this news piece he shares some insights into his work and his experience as a doctoral researcher working within the CLASSY research and innovation action.

“I defended my PhD thesis in June 2022 under the mentorship of Prof. Helma Wennemers. Over the past years, I have been developing peptide catalysts for stereoselective organocatalyzed transformations. In particular, we focused on catalysts with the general motif H-Pro-Pro-Xaa, where Xaa can be any amino acid, to increase reactivity, stereoselectivity, and chemoselectivity. For those who do not think about catalysts most of the time, a catalyst is a substance that increases the rate of a reaction without being consumed. Catalysts make chemical reaction run more efficiently and are therefore key to more sustainable technologies.

My PhD was a great opportunity to develop myself further, to be involved in international collaborations, and to initiate exciting research projects.

A personal highlight during this time was participating in the CLASSY project, in which we are trying to advance conventional synthesis by, for example, combining multiple catalysts in a single chemical reactor and/or using compartmentalization to perform multiple reactions simultaneously. In CLASSY, experts from the fields of (bio)catalysis, in-flow, and supramolecular chemistry teamed up to develop methods that will ultimately reduce the amount of waste in chemical syntheses.

Working with the groups in CLASSY has broadened my knowledge and given me interesting insights into different research fields. I have enjoyed working with motivated and talented researchers at all levels, from experienced PI, post-docs, other fellow doctoral researchers like myself, to master students. I liked that everyone was encouraged to think freely, be creative, and solve different challenges. I have thoroughly enjoyed our regular meetings (virtual and twice in person) where we have advanced the many projects in stimulating discussions and started fruitful collaborations. For example, in the collaboration between our and the Kroutil group, I had the opportunity to learn a lot about enzyme catalysis, and I am especially grateful to Dr. Mathias Pickl-Farnberger and Prof. Wolfgang Kroutil for the great discussions we had and the nice lab visit I was able to make to Graz. Looking back , I am proud of what we have accomplished with joined forces since launching the CLASSY project at the end of 2019, and I’m excited about what more is to come.

Finally, I would like to say thank you: I am very grateful to Prof. Wennemers – Helma – for helping me grow as a scientist and person over the past years. Thank you to everyone involved in CLASSY for the great community, the enjoyable meetings (especially the face-to-face ones), and the valuable feedback I have received over the years. I have benefited from the collaborative and encouraging environment.

I look forward to seeing you again and would like to conclude by saying: stay CLASSY!


Read about the outcomes of Jasper’s work in the following publications:

A busy summer of conferences for the CLASSY partners

It’s conferences time again for the CLASSY partners, who will be busy presenting their latest work with posters and oral presentations at various international conferences starting already this weekend, 26 June 2022. Where will you find the CLASSY partners?

At the Gordon Research Conference on Systems Chemistry 26 June – 1 July 2022 in Newry, ME, United States:

  • Oral presentation “Signaling Motifs in Synthetic Systems: Data Analysis of Replication Networks Out-of-Equilibrium” by Gonen Ashkenasy on 27 June 2022 at 9:30 am (local time).
  • Lecture “Programming Self- Assembly and Replication Networks with Minimal Nucleobase Sequences” by Andrés de la Escosura on 27 June 2022 at 9:00 pm (local time).
  • Poster “Prebiotic Nucleopeptides as Non-enzymatic Replicators” by Anil Kumar Bandela, Hava Sadihov, Andres de la Escosura, and Gonen Ashkenasy.
  • Poster “Programming self-assembly and replication networks with minimal nucleobase sequences” by Andrés de la Escosura, Noemí Nogal, Santiago Guisán, Gonen Ashkenasy, Sonia Vela.

At the Biocatalysis Gordon Research Seminar 9-10 July 2022 in Manchester, NH, United States:

  • Poster “Decarboxylation of palmitic acid catalyzed by Chlorella variabilis fatty-acid photodecarboxylase (CvFAP) in continuous flow” by Christoph Winkler, Stefan Simić, and Wolfgang Kroutil.

At the Biocatalysis Gordon Research Conference 10-15 July 2022 in Manchester, NH, United States:

  • Poster “A single enzyme catalyzing two reactions – a biocatalytic oxidation Michale addition cascade” by Matthias Pickl, Jasper Möhler, Stefan Simic, Helma Wennemers, Wolfgang Kroutil.
  • Poster “Decarboxylation of palmitic acid catalyzed by Chlorella variabilis fatty-acid photodecarboxylase (CvFAP) in continuous flow” by Stefan Simić, Christoph Winkler, Wolfgang Kroutil.

If you’ve registered to join these events, we invite you to visit the presentations above and learn more about the latest project developments. You can also keep following our updates on Twitter @CLASSY_H2020!

“Who are the chemists of nature?”

Lange Nacht der Forschung (the Long Night of Research) is a science fair that takes place every two years in numerous locations across Austria. Entry is free and open for all, and visitors can get a flavour of all areas of science and technology through versatile activities such as experiments, exhibitions and presentations.

As in previous years, this May, the Elk Crew (Biocatalysis Research Group) from the University of Graz (UG) took part in the Long Night of Research with a set of experiments titled “Who are the Chemists of Nature?” organised by one of the CLASSY PhD students – Stefan Simic. This year, the exhibition showcased the universal presence of enzymes (“The Chemists of Nature”) in all living things, be it common microorganisms like mould and yeast, fruit and vegetables, or even exotic creatures such as luminescent bacteria from the deep sea.

The UG team entertained the visitors demonstrating through their experiments how an important enzyme, catalase, which is found in the human body and protects it from oxidative damage, can also be found in yeast and potatoes; and they could observe the enzyme in action experimentally. Stefan and colleagues also demonstrated the process of preparation of lactose-free milk from regular milk, allowing the visitors to experience the impact of enzymes and biotechnology in their daily life.

The event lasted six hours, attracting visitors from all walks of life and demonstrating the marvel of enzymes and their role in providing efficient and sustainable solutions for society. Reflecting on the event, Stefan Simic says “It’s personally a great pleasure to bring fascinating scientific phenomena closer to the public, and to see the excitement on people’s faces as they take part in the joy of discovery.”

We are glad to know that people of all ages can be closer to the world of science with the help of such fairs and we are looking forward to the next event with the CLASSY team participation.

Pictures from UG’s participation at the Long Night of Research in Graz. Top left: various microorganisms (yeast and bacteria) on Petri dishes (grown in the lab on a nutritious surface) and flasks showing how enzymes are extracted from a microorganism. Top right: tubes containing red cabbage juice at different pH values to demonstrate the use of red cabbage as an acid-base indicator. The water used to cook cabbage was combined with different acids and bases, resulting in the different colours depending on acidity. Bottom: Stefan Simic and colleagues explaining the experiments to the visitors during the event. The set-up for the demonstration of the preparation of lactose-free milk from regular milk can be seen on the table on the right of the picture.