Heidelberg University: DFG grants millions for lipid research and research in plant processes
The Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio 83 “Molecular Architecture and Cellular Functions of Lipid/Protein Assemblies”, a joint network in lipid research of the universities of Heidelberg, Dresden, and Bonn, will continue its work in a third funding period. After a successful evaluation, the German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved funds of about 10,7 million euros. Ruperto Carola has the lead role; scientists at the Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center (BZH) coordinate all the cross-institute activities of the CRC/Transregio 83.
Cells are characterized by functionally distinct reaction compartments, which are limited by biological membranes allowing the selective exchange of signals and cargo molecules. These membranes contain two key constituents – proteins and lipids. Membrane lipids were originally thought to simply function as structural components that determine the basic architecture of a membrane and serve as “solvents” for membrane proteins. “However, it turned out that lipids control an unexpected array of physiological functions, both during membrane transport and signalling,” explains Prof. Dr Thomas Söllner of the BZH, spokesperson for the CRC/Transregio. “In these processes, specific lipid-protein contacts play key roles, but only a few have been identified so far.” During the previous two funding periods, CRC/TRR 83 scientists have already accomplished fundamental work by discovering several highly specific lipid-protein interactions and characterizing them in molecular detail.
Research goal is to understand the contribution of each membrane lipid to the structure and function of a biological membrane. The participating researchers study different membrane model systems, such as the intracellular assembly of virus particles and the primary cilium. Of additional interest is the controlled fusion of membranes, which regulates the release of neurotransmitters and hormones as well as signal transduction processes at the plasma membrane. To gain fundamental insights into the nature and function of protein-lipid interactions, the CRC/TRR 83 researchers employ and further develop innovative technology platforms. In addition, they synthesize new lipid analogues that can be visualized in living cells and can be used to identify specific partner proteins. In order to gain mechanistic and structural insights, selected protein/lipid complexes are being reconstituted from their purified components into functional systems.
Collaborating partners of the Biochemistry Center in the CRC/Transregio 83 include Heidelberg University Hospital, the Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC) and the Paul-Langerhans-Institute of the Technische Universität Dresden, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, the Life & Medical Sciences Institute (LIMES) and the Institute of Innate Immunity of the University of Bonn.
Heidelberg researchers are also key players in the “Molecular Encoding of Specificity in Plant Processes” Collaborative Research Centre (CRC 1101), whose successful work has now been funded for another four years by the German Research Foundation. The aim of the research programme is to determine exactly how plants specialize during development in order to create new functional cell properties. Using a wide range of methodologies, researchers from the universities of Tübingen, Heidelberg and Hohenheim are studying the molecular mechanisms that effect specificity to adapt to abiotic and biotic environmental factors during plant development. In the upcoming second funding period of CRC 1101, a total of five professors from Heidelberg University will participate: Thomas Greb, Ursula Kummer, Jan Lohmann, Alexis Maizel and Karin Schumacher. The DFG approved funding in the amount of approx. 12 million euros for the Collaborative Research Centre, whose spokesperson is with the University of Tübingen.
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