Spotlight on Young Researchers: Jo Hoeser


Ever since he was a child, Jo Hoeser wanted to understand the function of complex systems. He found himself taking apart and trying to fix broken electronic devices. Then fascination for chemistry came into the mix. Fast forward some years and the Luxembourg national completed his AFR PhD in biochemistry at the Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg – and wants to return to the Grand Duchy to continue his career in research.

“During high school I learned that all living organisms must use a vast set of chemical reactions to sustain life and to cope with external influences. This motivated me to focus my studies on biochemistry”, says Jo Hoeser, adding that his childhood passion for electronics never faded, and that he for example enjoys building 3D printers for a hobby.

Being a researcher is a perfect fit

The first step towards achieving progress is to identify and understand any existing problems. Once this is done, the insight gained can be used to solve the problems:

“Being a researcher is at the heart of this paradigm, since methodical analysis, evaluation and expertise, as well as creativity, development and perseverance, are needed on a daily basis. All these are factors that I always loved to combine and to apply, which makes being a researcher the perfect choice,” Jo says.

Working with a promising target for new antibiotics

For his AFR PhD, Jo investigated the last enzyme of the bacterial respiratory chain – a possible target for a new category of antibiotics. Many bacteria need this enzyme (called cytochrome bd ubiquinol oxidase) in order to breathe. When this enzyme is genetically removed or inhibited, several pathogens – such as tuberculosis and salmonella – become non-infectious.

Jo explains how his PhD work fed into the project:

“The aim of my work was to produce and to characterize the cytochrome bd oxidase enzyme from different organisms. Therefore the well-known organism E. coli was genetically modified in order to produce large amounts of this enzyme.

“After overproduction, the oxidase was extracted from the bacterial membranes and purified using several chromatographic steps. Afterwards, the enzyme was used for characterization of its chemical, structural and functional properties.

“The results were then evaluated, the system adjusted accordingly and the process repeated. One iteration from start to end took me from two to four weeks to complete, which made the days very rich in diversity.”

Branching out: Heating elements and bumblebees

During his PhD, Jo got a few chances to put his electronics skills to use: His supervisor gave him the opportunity to modify a fluorescence spectrometer in their group, and Jo was able to build in a heating element which allowed the spectrometer to measure fluorescence that depends on temperature – a big help in the purification process of proteins, but not easily done as Jo explains:

“This was very challenging, as I had to develop hardware as well as software from scratch by applying the knowledge on electronics and programming which I gathered over the years.”

Jo’s 3D printer knowledge recently also led to him working on a project about: bumblebees! A group at the Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg, where Jo did his PhD, are planning to examine the behaviour of bumblebees. In order to do this, they need artificial flowers that can dispense exact amounts of nectar:

“I was asked to redevelop the casing of these robotic flower systems, as in the original publication household items were used. In this case I was required to use my expertise in 3D design to sketch the model and currently I am in the process of producing these casings using my self-built 3D printer.

“I really enjoyed this complementation of biochemistry with electronics and techniques like 3D printing. This allowed me to combine work with my longstanding hobbies and to gain a different way of looking at all of these domains.”

“Since the beginning of my studies, I always planned on returning to Luxembourg”

Jo completed his AFR PhD project in August 2016. He currently remains at Albert-Ludwigs University Freiburg where he has a Postdoc position, but the Luxembourger always planned on returning to Luxembourg:

“At the moment I am standing at the end of my time in Freiburg and I am preparing my return to Luxembourg. Therefore, I will probably end my research on cytochrome bd oxidases permanently and switch to something new. As of now, it is still unclear which topics my future research will cover, but I am currently looking for new challenges.”

Jo is impressed with how much the biochemistry and biomedicine sector in Luxembourg has grown since he left the Grand Duchy for his studies, and hopes to be able to contribute to its further development:

“Nowadays, nearly every week there are articles in the local newspapers reporting about the latest progressions in establishing a solid base for researchers of all disciplines. In my opinion, over the last years a lot has been done to ensure a healthy environment for researchers, but the entire sector is still under development. I always followed this evolution and I would really like to contribute in this undertaking after returning to Luxembourg.”

“I think the goal of every researcher should be to eagerly contribute to development and progress to leave his footprints in the scientific landscape. To achieve this, I specifically like the work in smaller groups, where cooperation is important. If you know the abilities of your group members well, tasks can be effectively spread and everyone contributes to a well working and productive system. Therefore, I aspire to become the leader of a small workgroup at some point in my career.”

Published 04 May 2017

Jo Hoeser


About Spotlight on Young Researchers

Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the 9th in a series of around 20 articles, which will be published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Katharina Baum

When Katharina Baum was a teenager, her mother took her to a presentation about the Human Genome Project. Fascinated, she stood up and asked what she would have to do to be able to study genes. Some years and a degree in mathematics later, the German national and mother of two children now splits her time between Luxembourg and Berlin as part of her two postdocs. In her work at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, Katharina combines computer science, maths and biology to identify faulty regulatory mechanisms in cancerous cells.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anjali Sharma

In school, we are taught three states of matter: solid, liquid and gas. The focus of University of Luxembourg PhD candidate Anjali Sharma’s research lies between solid and liquid: liquid crystal. She studies them in unusual shapes that are no larger than the width of a human hair, yet they are considered as large by the scientists of the field. As part of her research, the Indian national got an opportunity for a rare experiment: Taking her research into a zero gravity environment.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Maxime Brami

Archaeologist and trained anthropologist Maxime Brami works on uncovering the origins and spread of agriculture, and has just landed a sought-after Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship. We speak to the Luxembourg national about what it’s like to be an archaeologist in academia, the collaborative nature of the field and why archaeologists have a certain responsibility.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Chetan Arora

Chetan Arora always knew he wanted to do a PhD, but did not see himself pursuing research beyond that. A few years later, the Indian national has completed his PhD in Requirements Engineering at the SnT at the University of Luxembourg, under the supervision of FNR PEARL Chair Lionel Briand – but this is only the beginning. During his PhD, Chetan’s passion for the challenging nature of research was lit, when he helped create a novel tool suite, which has the potential to have a big impact on software engineering.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Xianqing Mao

Xianqing Mao comes from a family of professors and doctors and thus has always had a natural interest in science. The Chinese national completed a medical degree, but felt she still had unanswered questions, so she decided to go abroad and took a leap into biomedical research. After stays in France, the UK, the United States and Belgium, Xianqing is now transitioning from junior to senior researcher at the Luxembourg Institute of Health, where she has already been involved in several projects investigating cancer progression.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Gil Georges

Gil Georges is driven by the quest for knowledge and strives to have a real impact, beyond publications. The Luxembourg national has just made the jump from early-career researcher to lecturer and group leader at the IET-LAV at ETH Zürich in Switzerland, where the data analyst and modeller gets to use one of Europe’s most powerful super computers when it is time for some serious number crunching.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Sebastian Scheer

Senior Postdoc Sebastian Scheer’s thirst for understanding how biological systems work led him to dive into the world of immunology research. After moving from Germany to Canada, the Luxembourg national got the chance to set up his group leader’s new lab in Australia, where his research revolves around the T cell, a key player in the shaping of immune responses.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Paul Johanns

Paul Johanns works in a research field one does not read about every day: knots. As part of his AFR PhD at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), the Luxembourg national combines high-precision model experiments, computation and theory to untangle the influence of topology on the mechanics of complex knots, particularly those used in surgical procedures.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Miguel Angel Olivares Mendez

Miguel Angel Olivares Mendez works on mobile robots – more specifically: he develops algorithms that enable drones to fly around and perform various tasks autonomously, such as inspecting big structures. The Spanish national came to Luxembourg in 2013 after he came across a Postdoc position that fit like a glove.

A system to support forest ecosystem decision-making

Industry and research join forces on many fronts, including the sustainable use of natural resources. Postdoc Claudio Petucco works on developing a decision support system for enhancing and assessing the provision of forest ecosystem services. The goal: improving the sustainable use of natural resources in Luxembourg.

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