Fides Zenk receives 2020 Gateff Prize

German Genetics Society honors MPG doctoral researcher for outstanding research on epigenetic inheritance

November 11, 2020

Fides Zenk, docotoral researcher in the lab of Nicola Iovino at the MPI of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, is awarded the 2020 Gateff Prize from the German Genetics Society (GfG). The award, endowed with 3,000 €, honors her Ph.D. thesis on maternally inherited H3K27me3 instructing early embryonic development in fruit flies.

Epigenetic mechanisms modulated by environmental cues such as diet, disease, or lifestyle play a significant role in altering gene activity without changing the underlying DNA sequences. It is matter of debate for a long time if epigenetic modifications accumulated throughout the entire life are passed on between generations.

During her Ph.D. research, Fides studied the entire path of cross-generational epigenetic inheritance in flies. She found that the epigenetic modification H3K27me3 labeling chromatin DNA in the mother’s egg cells were still present in the embryo after fertilization, even though other epigenetic marks are erased.

She created Drosophila embryos lacking the H3K27me3 modification and the absence of this epigenetic mark caused embryonic lethality.  Thus, she discovered that inheriting H3K27me3 helps flies enable healthy development by regulating gene expression timing during early embryogenesis.

The award-winning dissertation by Fides Zenk found a new principle of what is known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance with great potential for further investigation as the maternal inheritance of H3K27me3 also happens in mice and thus is likely an evolutionary conserved mechanism of passing on regulatory information.


Prior to her doctoral studies at the International Max Planck Research School for Molecular and Cellular Biology in the lab of Nicola Iovino, Fides completed a BSc and MSc in Biology at the University of Kassel (Germany). In 2020, she became a Postdoc in the lab of Barbara Treutlein at the ETH Zürich (Switzerland).

About the Prize

The Elisabeth Gateff Prize, endowed with 3,000 €, honors young scientists every year for outstanding doctoral theses from all genetic areas. The prize is donated by Elisabeth Gateff, former director of the Institute of Genetics at the University of Mainz, and is awarded at the annual meeting of the German Genetics Society (GfG).

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