Mariann Bienz is a molecular biologist who studies the Wnt signalling pathway. This plays an important role in body patterning, cell migration and cell fate determination during embryonic development but, if incorrectly activated, also serves as a major cancer pathway. Her work investigating the molecular basis of this pathway may reveal new therapeutic targets for treating cancer.
Her early work examined how developmental genes are transcribed in relation to the position of cells in the embryo. Here she pioneered the use of the fruit fly midgut as a model system, and also identified the role that the Wnt pathway plays in the patterning of endodermal cells through signals from the overlying mesoderm.
She started her career as a Faculty Member at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, but subsequently moved her group to the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) in Cambridge. She has recently taken up the position of Deputy Director of LMB, after ten years as Head of the Protein & Nucleic Acid Chemistry Division of LMB. She has extensive experience of serving on Grant and Careers Panels (including MRC, Cancer Research UK, Royal Society, and European Research Council), Scientific Advisory Boards (in Spain, Switzerland and UK) and Councils (European Molecular Biology Organization, Royal Society). Her work has been recognized by her election as a Member of EMBO, Fellow of the Royal Society, and Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences, and she has also received the Friedrich Miescher Prize of the Swiss Biochemical Society.
Her extensive personal experience of Continental science and state-funded education has sparked her interest in the UK education system, which she encountered through her two children. She thus became an advocate of equal access for everyone to a broad spectrum of education and career opportunities. Her various engagements in outreach activities allow her to convey her passion for science to young pupils. She is also committed to increasing the numbers of women in science, by encouraging young women to be bold and ambitious with their careers in science and elsewhere.
Wnt signalling, signalosomes and phase transitions, transcriptional switches, Molecular cancer pathways