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Madouc Bergers made her own enzyme inhibitors for her bachelor’s thesis

For her bachelor’s thesis, Molecular Science and Technology student Madouc Bergers synthesized her own molecule that can inhibit the breakdown of sugars. Although most students do not even manage to make one building block, Madouc made three. Partly because of this, she has been nominated for the Science Young Talent Award 2022.

According to supervisor Jeroen Codee, Madouc is not only theoretically one of the most talented students, she also excels in practical research. ‘She has shown tremendous productivity during her research internship. Madouc made her own molecules in the lab and, in doing so, got more than twice as far as the average student.’

The molecule Madouc made inhibits the working of glycosidase: an enzyme that breaks down sugars. ‘We therefore call these kinds of molecules inhibitors,’ she says. ‘The molecule resembles the piece of a sugar molecule that glycosidase normally binds to. However, after binding, it inhibits the sugar-degrading action.’

'Sugars play an important role in fundamental processes in all life on Earth.'

Sugars: important for much more than just taste

Madouc explains that sugars not only give a sweet taste to our food, but that there are many other types of sugar molecules. ‘Sugars play an important role in fundamental processes in all organisms, for example in energy management and communication between cells. If these sugars are not processed properly, those processes become disrupted. That can eventually lead to disease.’ The inhibitors Madouc has been working on could help counteract these kinds of diseases. And there are more potential applications, for example as an anti-fungal agent.

But before science gets to that point, a lot of fundamental research is still needed. Madouc’s inhibitor is very useful for that, because she added a colouring compound. ‘This allows us to follow the inhibitors accurately under the microscope. That in turn helps us discover new enzymes, which we can use, for example, to make biofuel out of plant residues.’

A lot of research in the MST bachelor

For many bachelor students, their final thesis is the first introduction to real scientific research. But in the MST programme, it is different. Madouc: ‘Both in the first and second year, you take the subject “Learning to do research”. In the second year, I made a building block for the actual molecule that I created during my final thesis. I found the project so interesting that I wanted to continue working on it, and I was lucky that this was possible. Also during the Modern Drug Discovery minor I got to do a lot of independent research. Really highly recommended!

'A PhD is a viable option'

Madouc stayed in Leiden and is now doing a master’s in Chemistry, with a specialisation in research. At the moment I am only taking courses, next academic year I will spend a year doing research at a research group of my choice. What I will do after the master’s, I am not sure yet, but a PhD is a viable option.' Whatever Madouc chooses, Codee is sure of a successful career: ‘Madouc is undoubtedly going to have a bright (academic) future.’

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