German exchange students learn research skills at the University of Lethbridge

For the past few years, university students from Germany have been able to hone their research skills in labs at the University of Lethbridge.

Through the German Academic Exchange Service, Dr. Hans-Joachim Wieden and Dr. Ute Kothe, professors in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have had German university students work in their labs for up to three months.

“What I like about it is that it brings international experience into my lab,” says Kothe. “I have students who are from southern Alberta so it’s nice for them to talk to the Germans and for the Germans, it’s nice to talk to the students from southern Alberta.

“Of course the science, the lab, the research experience and the techniques are important because it fits into their careers, but it’s also a cultural exchange. We get to know each other and we share a lot of fun.”

This year, Melanie Schwerdtfeger is working in Kothe’s lab while Ursela Barteczko is working in Wieden’s lab. They arrived in Lethbridge in mid-July and will be staying until the end of September.

Ursela Barteczko, left, and Melanie Schwerdtfeger are conducting research in U of L labs this summer through the German Academic Exchange Service.

Students apply for an internship with the German exchange service, selecting their top three choices from a database of available projects. The process is competitive, with only about a third of students and half of the labs succeeding in obtaining a fellowship position.

“I’ve never been outside Europe so it was a chance to travel abroad and Canada was always one of the countries that fascinated me,” says Schwerdtfeger, who is studying molecular medicine in Germany.

In Kothe’s lab, Schwerdtfeger has had the opportunity to put her classroom learning into practice. She has been isolating plasmids from bacteria. Plasmids are small DNA-containing molecules that can replicate apart from the chromosomal DNA in a bacterial cell. Plasmids often transfer resistance genes and that has implications for antibiotic resistance. Schwerdtfeger’s work in the lab involves isolating certain plasmids, with an eventual goal of manipulating the bacteria.

Barteczko, who’s studying molecular biotechnology in Germany, applied for an internship in Wieden’s lab because it matched her field of study and interests.

“I’m looking at the interaction of a protein with the ribosome. We’re trying different techniques to see what affects this binding and what is the function of this protein,” she says.

“The exchange program works in two ways for us. It brings the German students to the lab and so far we’ve always had outstanding students come and contribute to the work,” says Wieden. “It brings them into the lab and our students get accustomed to a German peer.”