Melina Schuh, esteemed scientist and pioneer in chromosomal abnormalities in ovarian cells, will speak at the Virginia Tech Life Science Seminar on Friday, Jan. 29, at noon.

All spring Virginia Tech Life Science Seminars (VTLSS) will be hosted on Zoom. You can join the seminar each week by clicking this link.

VTLSS is a universitywide seminar series funded by the Fralin Life Sciences Institute at Virginia Tech.  

“We are excited, along with the VTLSS program committee members, to carry on this seminar series, which spans all the life science disciplines represented on the Virginia Tech campus,” said Michelle Olsen, co-director of VTLSS and associate professor in the School of Neuroscience in the College of Science.

The VTLSS series has a long tradition of bringing world-renowned scientists to Virginia Tech. This spring, seminars will cover a wide range of topics, ranging from the latest bioengineering techniques to viral evolution and the immune system, and will cover research on bacteria, viruses, plants, and animals.

“There is no other seminar series on the Virginia Tech campus that covers such a broad range of topics and we have an excellent lineup of speakers this semester. There will be a lot of interesting research to hear about, including Dr. Schuh’s fascinating work on chromosome segregation in human ovarian cells,” said Silke Hauf, co-director of VTLSS and associate professor of biological sciences in the College of Science.

Abnormal chromosome numbers is the leading cause of miscarriage in humans. Schuh has pioneered the development of imaging methods to observe chromosome segregation in live mammalian oocytes, or ovarian cells.

With these tools in hand, Schuh has discovered a number of key aspects of oocyte meiosis, including some of the mechanisms that lead to abnormal chromosome numbers, or aneuploidy, and cause infertility and miscarriage in humans.

“The significance of Dr. Schuh’s research can, perhaps, be appreciated by the impact it has had on her career: She became a group leader at the world-renowned Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology in the United Kingdom at age 29, right out of her Ph.D., and was appointed as institute director at the Max-Planck Society at age 36. Schuh is an exceptional scientist and it will be a real treat to have her as a VTLSS speaker,” said Daniela Cimini, professor of biological sciences in the College of Science and faculty host for Schuh’s visit.

Schuh is a director at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen, Germany, where she leads the Department of Meiosis. For her presentation, Schuh will summarize her laboratory’s recent research on spindle assembly in mammalian oocytes. Her lab found that human oocyte spindles are surprisingly unstable and identified functions for actin and a liquid-like meiotic spindle domain used for spindle assembly in mammalian oocytes.

Schuh will present recent work from her laboratory that sheds light on the origin of high aneuploidy rates in mammalian embryos. The vast majority of human embryos are aneuploid. Aneuploidy frequently arises during early mitotic divisions of the embryo, but the origin of this remains elusive. Using bovine embryos as a model for human embryos, Schuh’s lab identified an error-prone mechanism of parental genome unification that often results in aneuploidy.

Schuh graduated in biochemistry from the University of Bayreuth in 2004 and, in 2008, obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Heidelberg and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. In 2009, she became a group leader at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, where her group carried out the first studies of meiosis in live human oocytes and developed strategies for high content screens for meiotic genes in mammals.

In 2016, she was appointed to her current position at the Max-Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. Her lab also developed a new method for the acute degradation of endogenous proteins, called Trim-Away. Schuh is a member of the Leopoldina (German National Academy of Sciences), an EMBO member, and a recipient of the Leibniz Prize, the EMBO Gold Medal, the Colworth Medal, an ERC Starting Grant, a Biochemical Society Early Career Award, the European Young Investigator Award, the Lister Research Prize, the John Kendrew Young Scientist Award, and the Binder Innovation Prize.

These VTLSS interdisciplinary seminars are open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff. Past seminars have been given by high caliber scientists, including federal agency program officers and a Nobel prize-awardee. You can view the list of previous seminars in their archive and watch some of them on the YouTube playlist.

You do not have to be in the life sciences to attend; if a subject matter is of interest to you, the VTLSS committee welcomes your participation. 

The VTLSS committee is composed of co-directors Silke Hauf and Michelle Olsen and committee members Clayton Caswell of the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology in the Virginia Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Timothy Jarome of the Department of Animal Poultry Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences; Joel McGlothlin of the Department of Biological Sciences in the College of Science; Ryan Senger of the Department of Biological Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering; and Jim Westwood of the School of Plant and Environmental Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.