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Elena Conti

Elena Conti

Elena Conti is a 2024 NOMIS Awardee and director of the Department of Structural Cell Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry (MPIB; Munich, Germany). She also serves as honorary professor for the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the Ludwig Maximilian University (Munich, Germany). She is leading the project Visualizing the Messenger: Deciphering the Architecture of Neuronal mRNA Particles at the Atomic Level.

Conti was born in Varese, Italy. She earned a degree in chemistry at the University of Pavia (Italy) and her PhD from the Faculty of Physical Sciences at Imperial College London (UK). She then completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Rockefeller University (New York, US) before establishing her own research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (Heidelberg, Germany). Upon joining MPIB in 2007, Conti assumed the role of the institute’s first female director and organized the infrastructure to facilitate structural biology research on campus.

Research Focus

Conti’s research has focused on gaining molecular insights into the macromolecular assemblies that participate in the RNA life cycle to understand the mechanisms that direct their functional role. Through a synergy of biochemistry, structural biology and biophysical approaches, Conti and her group have determined the structures and mechanisms of approximately 100 macromolecular proteins and complexes, ranging in complexity from lower to higher eukaryotes. Among her landmark discoveries are the insights into the assembly of “productive” complexes on mRNAs, such as the exon junction complex and the polyA tail ribonucleoprotein complex, and of “destructive” complexes that act to degrade mRNAs.

Conti’s expansive body of work on the RNA-degrading exosome — in particular, capturing these large machineries in the act of recognizing their substrates — has provided groundbreaking insights into RNA degradation mechanisms. Additionally, Conti has trapped exosomes in supercomplexes with nuclear and cytoplasmic ribosome particles, illuminating how these different machineries in gene expression are not only functionally but also physically coupled. Her research represents a major breakthrough in the field, as a paradigm for the direct coordination of distinct macromolecular machines in gene expression.

Awards and Recognition

In recognition of Conti’s research, she has received three consecutive Advanced Grants from the European Research Council and several prestigious awards, including the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, the Louis Jeantet Prize for Medicine, the Gregori Aminoff Prize and the Hans Neurath Prize. Conti is also an elected member of the European Molecular Biology Organization, the German Academy of Sciences and the Italian Accademia dei Lincei, as well as a Foreign Member of the United Kingdom’s Royal Society.

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