Interview with Junior-Professor Bruce Morgan
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Worthing, a small city near Brighton, in England, United Kingdom.
Did you do your bachelor studies there?
Yes, my bachelor studies were at the University of Wales, Cardiff. After that I went to do my PhD in the University of Manchester, in Manchester. Subsequently I spent five years as a post-doc at the Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum (DKFZ) in Heidelberg before moving to Kaiserslautern.
How did you come to TU Kaiserslautern?
A mixture of serendipity and a little bit of planning. In the beginning I’ve never planned to move to Germany. At the end of my PhD in Manchester, I was writing a grant application together with a Professor there. As a back-up I also wrote an EMBO short-term fellowship, with the idea that I would move to the DKFZ in Heidelberg for three months and bring the knowledge of the techniques I had learned back to Manchester. In the end the EMBO fellowship was funded whilst the post-doctoral grant application was not; this I learnt when I was already in Heidelberg. I have been in Germany ever since. Although this was unplanned, it worked out very well. I had a really good time as a postdoc, the project went great and we published very well. Setbacks can play a major part in many young scientists’ careers. The important thing is to be flexible and if plan A doesn’t work out make sure that plan B is at least as good.
Have you always worked in a similar area of research?
Yes, my PhD focused on the import and oxidative folding of small mitochondrial proteins. Oxidative folding describes the process by which protein fold and acquire disulfide bonds; which is a redox process. This is already the start of my interest in redox biology. In my Post Doc I really began to work exclusively as a redox biologist. My work centered on developing genetically encoded redox sensors to enable us to measure in real-time how different redox species are regulated within the cell and for example how they respond to environmental, chemical and genetic changes. Genetical manipulations or to treatments with chemicals and so on.
In which projects are you currently working on?
We have three main projects going on in the lab. Our first project focusses on redox regulation of cellular time-keeping. We are interested in how cellular redox changes may regulate cellular clocks, for example circadian and ultradian clocks. Then we have two other main projects going on. One is understanding how glutathione is distributed and regulated in the cell. Glutathione is a small tripeptide, present in high concentration is all eukaryotic cells that plays an important role in many processes such as detoxification of toxic compounds, heavy metals and some reactive oxygen species. We are trying to understand how glutathione is distributed between the different organelles in the cell, which transporters are involved and how these transport processes regulate glutathione homeostasis in the different compartments. The third project focusses on understanding how changes in diet affect cellular redox homeostasis and cellular fitness. More specifically, using yeasts as model organisms, we are looking at how differences in the availability of different amino acids affect the redox homeostasis in the cell. Interestingly, we see a huge impact of branched-chain amino acid (leucine, isoleucine and valine) availability. Branched-chain amino acids are widely taken as supplements by athletes, body builders for example. They have this kind of pro muscle building effect, but we also see this huge effect on redox homeostasis in the cell, and that’s what we are interested in. All these projects are quite new and have started in the last couple of years with Hiwi students funded by the Nachwuchsring, following which we have placed PhD students on the projects.
What are your plan for your research in the close future?
My research is in metabolism now, specifically to understand the cross talk between cellular metabolism and cellular redox regulation. We know that changes in specific redox species can affect metabolism and vice versa, changes in metabolism can affect the levels of different redox species. However, we still lack a lot of mechanistic understanding about exactly how these effects are mediated.
We also extend this research to metabolic cycles and clocks within the cell, for example the circadian clock as well as shorter period ultradian clocks. There have recently been several high-impact publications suggested that redox changes play a crucial role in cellular time-keeping, but again the mechanistic underpinnings are largely unclear.
What do you like or dislike in the TU Kaiserslautern?
What I like is, and this I think applies throughout Germany, is that the availability of funding is fantastic. As a young group leader, like myself, it’s very easy to get three or four PhD students, or even more. I think this situation is rather unique to Germany. Several years ago I was applying for group leader positions in the UK. This was not successful, although in hindsight, it is clearly for the best. Had I got funding in the UK I would likely now be struggling to do research with perhaps one PhD student.
What don’t I like here? That’s easy, and is also applicable throughout Germany, bureaucracy and excessive administration. This wastes so much of a scientist’s time, which might be better spent on teaching and research. At least that’s my opinion.
Which services offered by the TU Nachwuchsring did or do you use?
I applied twice for funding in the Nachwuchsring, which I received in both cases. Especially in the first year here it was fantastic to have this extra money to buy more material for the lab, consumables, and so on. It was really helpful.
Do you have any suggestion or advices for new young researchers?
For Junior Professors and young group leader the most important piece of advice, in my opinion, I is that it’s not enough to be good, you have to be seen to be good. Meaning, you need to talk to people, you need to network. Go to as many meetings and conferences as you can. Your chances of getting a permanent position somewhere are much bigger if you’re known. You can have the best CV in the world, but if people do not know you they will always be more cautious about hiring you. For young scientists, i.e. students, and maybe even PhD students, take as much advantage as you can of courses where they teach you how to write, how to give good talks, how to present yourself, these things are very important. Knowing how to communicate well in science is very important. If you get any chance to go to this kind of course, take it. And also go to as many meetings and talk to as many people as possible. Don’t be afraid to talk to the professors. One day they may give you a job.