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VIDEO: Elvan Böke on Membraneless Organelles in Female Germ Cells: the Balbiani Body and the ELVAs

Avinash Patel
Avinash Patel

Group Leader, Discovery Biology, Dewpoint Therapeutics

Type Kitchen Table Talk

The Dewpoint scientists and community were delighted to join Elvan Böke to learn about the condensates inside female germ cells on October 6 as part of our Kitchen Table Talk Series. Elvan is a good friend of mine from our time back in graduate school at the University of Manchester. There, she worked with Iain Hagan and showed how key phosphatases play a role in cell division.

Then she studied as a postdoc with Timothy Mitchison at Harvard Medical School and uncovered the mechanism of physiological amyloids in the Balbiani body. She has been a group leader at the Centre for Genomic Regulation since 2017, where she has continued to work toward understanding the function of condensates in female germ cells, and her lab recently discovered ELVAs (EndoLysosomal Vesicular Assemblies).

In her talk, she tells us all about ELVAs and their dissolution and function during oocyte maturation. I hope you enjoy her talk as much as all of us in attendance did. Elvan would love to hear from you if you have a question about her talk; feel free to reach out to her at

Elvan Böke on Membraneless Organelles in Female Germ Cells: the Balbiani Body and the ELVAs

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Avinash Patel (00:00):
Of course, thank you, Elvan, for making time for this talk, and many… It’s quite a pleasure for me to introduce Elvan, because having known her for quite some years, I have always been looking forward to get this opportunity to introduce her. So, that’s actually great. And yeah, we did our graduate studies together, back in Manchester. And just during this PhD, of course, it was not easiest of the PhDs, but having each other’s support was actually making things and got us through that PhD.

Avinash Patel (00:39):
However, something that I would like to share about Elvan that has been an inspiration that actually I have never said to her as well is the fact that her ability to read these publications and grasp the key message in some of the very… some of the situations that many of us might think of implausible, right, so she would come into the lab and she has read a paper on her way to the lab or, you know, and known exactly what to get out of that paper. So, her ability to read and grasp is something that I was always quite amazed with. And actually that might have helped her quite a lot to make some remarkable discoveries that she made.

Avinash Patel (01:21):
Of course, nothing that our supervisor used to tell her to do, which was to just start try some stupid phospho-specific antibodies, but she went on to make a discovery that actually, for the first time, showed how the key two phosphatases do an interplay in regulating cell divisions. This was the first instance that we kind of understood how phosphatases work in cell divisions, because earlier, we always used to focus on kinases.

Avinash Patel (01:48):
After having done a PhD, she went on and took a remarkable step in her career to go to Harvard Medical School and did a postdoc with Tim Mitchison, where she uncovered, again, and made a discovery about a non-membranous bound organelle, what we would call condensates now, that people have known for decades but really didn’t understand what this meant for how it’s regulated. And she uncovered the mechanism as to how amyloids, also that people always used to think as pathological, can have a physiological role.

Avinash Patel (02:21):
And now again, in her current lab, she continues to make these remarkable discoveries, and today we are going to hear about one of them, which she calls as ELVAs, which I would be very surprised if she says that has no coincidence to her name. So, with that, it’s been a pleasure to introduce you, Elvan, and we’ll really look forward to hear about the the current story that you have uncovered in your lab.

Elvan Böke (02:44):
Thank you very much, Avinash. So, yeah, so to basically to answer, because ELVAs, I didn’t come up with the name, my postdoc did. But it is true, it has been a constant joke in the lab after that point always. So, it makes us laugh quite a lot. So, for those of you who don’t know, I am based in CRG Barcelona, and this is our building. And this is a photo actually I took from the sailing boat like in the last year. So, if you are ever in Barcelona, drop us a note, and I would love to host you here. We are based in a very nice spot.

Elvan Böke (03:22):
But what I’m going to tell you today is all about oocytes. And oocytes are female germ cells that are present in the female body. Oocytes are formed in the body at around four months after conception, so any newborn female baby that you see actually are born with all of the oocytes, immature egg cells, they will ever have throughout their lifetime. And these oocytes remain in the female body from birth until menopause. At around the time of puberty, one of these oocytes grow and mature into an egg, and if the egg is lucky enough to be fertilized, a new baby is born.

Elvan Böke (03:59):
Basically, all of my lab is going around this idea, just like, “How come a decades-old cell can give rise to a new organism?” And we are studying different features on the different parts of this very question. One thing that we came across, or we come across consistently, is some sort of a way of molecular condensate. And today, I’m going to tell you first at the beginning a little bit about Balbiani body. And the majority of that work is published, so I’m not going to tell much about it or more details. And the second part is actually not published yet; we are just putting together the paper, so you are going to be here to hear it live, one of the first people, and I would like to get your feedback…

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