“Bertozzi’s work is a powerful tool”

Mr Möckl, have you considered the subject of this year’s Nobel Prize?
Yes. Of course, you can never be sure who will get it and who will receive the award, but I saw the award ceremony live and the click chemistry award came as no surprise to me. He really deserves it.

And outside the labs?
Especially in pharmaceutical research, for example in drug screening. A potential drug is identified and optimized before being selected for clinical testing. We can mark drug candidates in situ, ie directly in the organism, and observe and investigate the coupling processes. This method is probably already used by all major pharmaceutical companies.

What is special about the award-winning research?
It is a mix of pioneering work in synthetic chemistry and application in biology. Click chemistry is very elegant and simple: two molecules click together like two building blocks – bang! Carolyn Bertozzi brought this mechanism into biology. The reaction space of biological systems is very small and far removed from what we often have in chemistry. For living systems you need a mild pH, an aqueous environment, not too high temperatures. This is a special challenge. Bertozzi has done incredible pioneering work here.

Where is this method already used?
Especially in the laboratory and in fundamental research, for example to investigate sugar on cells. Thanks to Bertozzi’s work, we can specifically label these sugars and track their organization and dynamics – it’s a powerful tool.

The prize winners have given us a new toolbox to study biological systems. An example is the sugar structures on cells mentioned above. We have only recently discovered that cells are covered with a layer of sugar. Our usual research methods don’t work well here, for example genetic modifications. Click chemistry allows us to investigate this structure using fluorescence.

You yourself were at Stanford from 2016 to 2020, working with Bertozzi. What is she like as a person and as a boss?
Beautiful (laughs). She is a very successful scientist and some go to their heads, but Carolyn is very human, approachable and humble. She is “easy going”, according to the California mindset. At the same time, she is very curious and caring. I learned a lot from her and am very grateful for the time I had with her. She showed me that you can make it big as a scientist and still remain a person with a beautiful character.

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