21. 04. 2017

A seminar conceived so that in it the life and work of the globally recognized scientist in the field of retrovirology Prof. Jan Svoboda was commemorated by his direct and distant collaborators was organized by the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS on Wednesday, 19 April. Prof. Jan Svoboda dealt with the study of retroviruses, including also the HIV virus that causes AIDS, all of his life. Among other awards, he received for his scientific activity the Gergor Mendel Silver Plaque, the J.E. Purkyně Honorary Medal for credit in the biological sciences, Josef Hlávka Medal, the National Prize Czech Head and the prize of the foundation for the support of science Neuron. Prof. Jan Svoboda died on 13 March 2017 at the age of 82.

“I knew Prof. Jan Svoboda, because I worked and I still work near the place where he lived, so we met on the way and talked. I knew him as an extremely kind and well-educated man. Prof. Jan Svoboda lived his field, so I am very glad that the employees of the Institute of Molecular Genetics of the CAS and especially Mr. Jiří Hejnar took on the organization of this seminar in a professional spirit,” said President of the Czech Academy of Sciences Prof. Eva Zažímalová in the introduction.

The early work of Prof. Jan Svoboda on the Raus sarcoma virus biology, which is the pillar of our knowledge about retroviruses, dates back to the 1960s. His research has fundamentally contributed to understanding the replication cycle of retroviruses and the definition of a provirus – a retrovirus constantly integrated into the host DNA. Retroviruses do not have inherited information encoded in DNA but are related to ribonucleic acid (RNA). In so-called reverse transcription, viral genes are transcribed into the DNA of the host, where the infected cell and its offspring carry out activities other than their usual – e.g. the production of toxins or directly the viruses that originally attacked the cell.

At the seminar, not only was the history of the discoveries of prof. Jan Svoboda commemorated, but where retrovirology is going currently and what its possibilities are was mainly discussed.

Čestmír Altaner from the Institute of Oncology of the Slovak Academy of Sciences commented on Czech-Slovak cooperation in the area of retrovirology, Ivan Hirsch from the Faculty of Science of Charles University remembered the credit of Prof. Jan Svoboda in the discovery of the HIV virus, Jan Konvalinka of the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS, talked about the current situation in retrovirology and the latest research was presented by younger colleagues of Prof. Jan Svoboda, Daniel Elleder and Anna Lounková.

Since Prof. Svoboda dealt with a great number of fields, including history and philosophy, a block devoted to his philosophical reflection was included at the end of the seminar, which was presented by Aleš Prázný from the Faculty of Arts of the University of Pardubice and the son of Prof. Svoboda, Jan Svoboda, Jr.

Prepared by: Department of Media Communication of the Head Office of the CAS
Photo: Stanislava Kyselová