MPI-CBG News-Feed https://mpi-cbg.de/ Latest News of the MPI-CBG en TYPO3 News Mon, 23 May 2022 12:24:59 +0200 Mon, 23 May 2022 12:24:59 +0200 TYPO3 EXT:news news-1152 Mon, 09 May 2022 12:47:59 +0200 First IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal for Eugene Myers and Webb Miller https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/first-ieee-frances-e-allen-medal-for-eugene-myers-and-webb-miller Award for pioneering contributions to sequence analysis algorithms and their applications to biosequence search, genome sequencing, and comparative genome analyses. Eugene Myers, Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), and Webb Miller, professor in the department of biology and the department of computer science and engineering at The Pennsylvania State University, received the first, newly created IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal at the 2022 IEEE Honors Ceremony on May 6. The IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal was established in 2020, is sponsored by IBM, and honors Frances E. Allen, computer scientist and pioneer in the field of optimizing compilers, who died on August 4, 2020. The medal is awarded to an individual or to a team of recipients for innovative work in computing that leads to lasting impact on other aspects of engineering, science, technology, or society.

Congratulations, Gene and Webb!

Myers and Miller receive the award for their pioneering contributions to sequence analysis algorithms and their applications to biosequence search, genome sequencing, and comparative genome analyses. The computational innovations of Eugene Myers and Webb Miller have been central to progress on the most important tasks in DNA and protein sequence data analysis, directly enabling the genomic revolution in biological science and medicine. During the mid to late 1980s, they worked as a team to develop many seminal methods, which culminated in the famous BLAST search engine, where they developed the “seed-and-extend” paradigm using the idea of sequence neighborhoods to achieve a search speed for approximate match that still stands today. Independently, both Myers and Miller have continued to shape the field of molecular biology. Myers has made critical contributions to the genome assembly problem of how to reconstruct entire genome sequences billions of bases long from short pieces on the order of 1000 bases. He made the case for applying whole genome shotgun assembly to large genomes such as the human genome, and then did so at Celera Genomics in 2001. Myers is currently a co-leader of the Vertebrate Genomes Project, which aims to provide high-quality reference genome sequences for all vertebrates. Miller has worked on the important problem of how to calculate and represent the sequence alignments that represents evolutionary relationships between whole genome sequences.

IEEE is the world’s largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity. The new IEEE Frances E. Allen Medal recognizes the contributions of Frances “Fran” E. Allen as an American computing pioneer. Allen helped design and build Alpha, a high-level code-breaking language that featured the ability to create new alphabets beyond the system-defined ones. Among her many awards, Allen was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1987, became the first female IBM Fellow in 1989, and in 2006, became the first woman to win the Turing Award.

]]>
2022 Institute News
news-1148 Thu, 28 Apr 2022 11:25:51 +0200 DFG funds interdisciplinary project https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/dfg-funds-interdisciplinary-project Funding for Maximina Yun and Steffen Rulands to explore the role of regeneration in aging A new interdisciplinary project led by Maximina Yun at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD), the MPI-CBG, and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) at TU Dresden together with Steffen Rulands from the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS) will examine the principles of aging in axolotl. The project will explore the potential link between the extreme health span and the extraordinary regeneration abilities of axolotls. The project is supported by a near 1 million EUR grant within the Sequencing Costs in Projects program of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Age remains one of the main risk factors for most diseases. As we age, our health gradually declines. Yet, a handful of animal species seem to defy the natural course of aging. Axolotl, a Mexican salamander, can live exceptionally long without showing typical signs of biological aging. It is also known for its extraordinary healing abilities. It can regrow complete body parts, including limbs and several internal organs. But are these two phenomena connected? Can the axolotl overcome aspects of aging thanks to its unique regeneration abilities?

Molecular Footprints of Aging
“We would like to examine the influence of regeneration on the biological age of cells and tissues,” says Maximina Yun, head of the project and research group leader at CRTD, MPI-CBG and PoL. “We are interested in what changes occur in the cells as the time passes and whether these changes are affected by processes taking place during the regeneration of the tissue.”

One of the most significant changes that occur in our body as we age happens at the molecular level. Over time, some genes are turned off, while others are turned on. “As the first step, we plan to analyze the changes in gene expression as the axolotl ages. We will process this data to identify ‘molecular footprints’ for cells of different biological ages,” adds Yun. Such biomarkers of aging will allow the researchers to compare the age of cells in normal tissues with cells from regenerated tissues.

An Interdisciplinary Approach
The project will combine the expertise of Maximina Yun and Steffen Rulands from the MPI-PKS. Rulands is an expert in statistical physics. His group will use the data provided by researchers from Yun’s group and employ a variety of techniques such as machine learning, biophysical modeling, and bioinformatics to provide in silico insights. These models would then be experimentally tested by the Yun group, resulting in the validation and/or generation of new hypotheses.

This is already the second project the Yun and Rulands groups embark on together. “The expertise of our groups complements each other perfectly, making for an exciting and hopefully successful collaboration,” says Yun.

Shining Light on the Nature of Aging
Yun and Rulands believe that this project will provide new answers to the fundamental scientific challenge of aging. “A better understanding of the molecular nature of aging and its interplay with regeneration could eventually help us develop new strategies towards the promotion of healthy aging and longevity,” concludes Maximina Yun.

]]>
2022 Scientific News
news-1145 Thu, 14 Apr 2022 20:00:00 +0200 Structures considered key to gene expression are surprisingly fleeting https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/structures-considered-key-to-gene-expression-are-surprisingly-fleeting Study finds genome loops don’t last long in cells; theories of how loops control gene expression may need to be revised. In human chromosomes, DNA is coated by proteins to form an exceedingly long beaded string. This “string” is folded into numerous loops, which are believed to help cells control gene expression and facilitate DNA repair, among other functions. A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) suggests that these loops are very dynamic and shorter-lived than previously thought. In the new study, the researchers were able to monitor the movement of one stretch of the genome in a living cell for about two hours. They saw that this stretch was fully looped for only 3 to 6 percent of the time, with the loop lasting for only about 10 to 30 minutes. The findings suggest that scientists’ current understanding of how loops influence gene expression may need to be revised, the researchers say.

“Many models in the field have been these pictures of static loops regulating these processes. What our new paper shows is that this picture is not really correct,” says Anders Sejr Hansen, the Underwood-Prescott Career Development Assistant Professor of Biological Engineering at MIT. “We suggest that the functional state of these domains is much more dynamic.” Hansen is one of the senior authors of the new study, along with Leonid Mirny, a professor in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science and the Department of Physics, and Christoph Zechner, a group leader at the MPI-CBG and the CSBD. MIT postdoc Michele Gabriele, recent Harvard University PhD recipient Hugo Brandão, and MIT graduate student Simon Grosse-Holz are the lead authors of the paper, which appears today in Science.

Out of the loop
Using computer simulations and experimental data, scientists including Mirny’s group at MIT have shown that loops in the genome are formed by a process called extrusion, in which a molecular motor promotes the growth of progressively larger loops. The motor stops each time it encounters a “stop sign” on DNA. The motor that extrudes such loops is a protein complex called cohesin, while the DNA-bound protein CTCF serves as the stop sign. These cohesin-mediated loops between CTCF sites were seen in previous experiments. However, those experiments only offered a snapshot of a moment in time, with no information on how the loops change over time. In their new study, the researchers developed techniques that allowed them to fluorescently label CTCF DNA sites so they could image the DNA loops over several hours. They also created a new computational method that can infer the looping events from the imaging data. “This method was crucial for us to distinguish signal from noise in our experimental data and quantify looping,” Zechner says. “We believe that such approaches will become increasingly important for biology as we continue to push the limits of detection with experiments.”

The researchers used their method to image a stretch of the genome in mouse embryonic stem cells. “If we put our data in the context of one cell division cycle, which lasts about 12 hours, the fully formed loop only actually exists for about 20 to 45 minutes, or about 3 to 6 percent of the time,” Grosse-Holz says.

“If the loop is only present for such a tiny period of the cell cycle and very short-lived, we shouldn't think of this fully looped state as being the primary regulator of gene expression,” Hansen says. “We think we need new models for how the 3D structure of the genome regulates gene expression, DNA repair, and other functional downstream processes.” While fully formed loops were rare, the researchers found that partially extruded loops were present about 92 percent of the time. These smaller loops have been difficult to observe with the previous methods of detecting loops in the genome. “In this study, by integrating our experimental data with polymer simulations, we have now been able to quantify the relative extents of the unlooped, partially extruded, and fully looped states,” Brandão says.

“Since these interactions are very short, but very frequent, the previous methodologies were not able to fully capture their dynamics,” Gabriele adds. “With our new technique, we can start to resolve transitions between fully looped and unlooped states.”

The researchers hypothesize that these partial loops may play more important roles in gene regulation than fully formed loops. Strands of DNA run along each other as loops begin to form and then fall apart, and these interactions may help regulatory elements such as enhancers and gene promoters find each other. “More than 90 percent of the time, there are some transient loops, and presumably what's important is having those loops that are being perpetually extruded,” Mirny says. “The process of extrusion itself may be more important than the fully looped state that only occurs for a short period of time.”

More loops to study
Since most of the other loops in the genome are weaker than the one the researchers studied in this paper, they suspect that many other loops will also prove to be highly transient. They now plan to use their new technique study some of those other loops, in a variety of cell types.  “There are about 10,000 of these loops, and we've looked at one,” Hansen says. “We have a lot of indirect evidence to suggest that the results would be generalizable, but we haven’t demonstrated that. Using the technology platform we’ve set up, which combines new experimental and computational methods, we can begin to approach other loops in the genome.” The researchers also plan to investigate the role of specific loops in disease. Many diseases, including a neurodevelopmental disorder called FOXG1 syndrome, could be linked to faulty loop dynamics. The researchers are now studying how both the normal and mutated form of the FOXG1 gene, as well as the cancer-causing gene MYC, are affected by genome loop formation.

The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the Mathers Foundation, a Pew-Stewart Cancer Research Scholar grant, the Chaires d'excellence Internationale Blaise Pascal, an American-Italian Cancer Foundation research scholarship, and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.

Video demonstrating chromosome organization by loop extrusion with barrier elements by the Mirny lab: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8FW6gOx5lPI

Reprinted with permission of MIT News
Original MIT News Release

]]>
2022 Scientific News Press Releases
news-1142 Wed, 13 Apr 2022 12:24:49 +0200 Structure and function of synapses https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/structure-and-function-of-synapses Daniel Colón-Ramos is visiting scientist at MPI-CBG and CSBD In mid-February, Daniel Colón-Ramos, a McConnell Duberg Professor of Neuroscience and Cell Biology at Yale University School of Medicine, arrived at the MPI-CBG and the neighboring Center for Systems Biology (CSBD) for a six-month visit in the research lab of Anthony Hyman. Daniel came to Dresden via the ELBE Visiting Faculty Program of the CSBD. He also received a Humboldt Research Award for his stay in Dresden. Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation grants up to 100 Humboldt Research Awards to internationally leading researchers of all disciplines from abroad in recognition of their academic record to date. Award winners are invited to conduct a research project of their choice at a research institution in Germany in cooperation with specialist colleagues there.

Colón-Ramos was born and raised in Puerto Rico. He completed his PhD at Duke University and was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University. Now at Yale University, he and his lab are interested in how synapses are precisely assembled to build the neuronal architecture that underlies behavior. In 2019, he received an HFSP Program Grant Award together with Anthony Hyman to address glycolysis as a fundamental energy metabolic pathway. This joint project inspired Daniel to come to Dresden. He explains: “I came here because I have been increasingly interested in how physical principles can help us understand how synapses form during development and then how they are modified. The project that led me here was that we observed in our genetic studies that there were metabolic proteins localized all over the cell. We were able to observe that they come together to form a structure that we think is powering the synapses. We asked if these proteins could come together in a membraneless organelle through biophysical principles of phase separation. And how could phase separation help the enzymatic reactions of those proteins that are producing energy?” In addition to working on his collaborative project, Daniel Colón-Ramos wants to explore physics in the context of biology more during his stay. As director of the new Wu Tsai Institute at Yale University, he also wants to understand the ingredients that make an interdisciplinary institute work and how to encourage interactions.

In 2006, Daniel founded Ciencia Puerto Rico (CienciaPR), an organization to connect Puerto Rican scientists across the world with the mission to promote science in Puerto Rico but also in other Spanish-speaking communities. The project began as a database and an online community and has since grown into a nonprofit organization with over 15.000 registered scientists. Daniel says: “My passion, besides research, is to democratize access to science. Which is why I founded CienciaPR. Part of the purpose of the organization is to increase scientific literacy. We felt we needed to contextualize science. When I was growing up, our books for science classes came from the USA, translated into Spanish though, but all of the examples they used to contextualized science seemed irrelevant to my reality as a kid growing up in Puerto Rico. For instance, when exemplifying seed dispersal, they used the example of the maple tree. Growing up in Puerto Rico, I had never seen a maple tree. Or for instance, to introduce electricity, books used this beautiful phenomenon of rubbing a balloon in your hair; it seeing it stand up. Now, this will happen if you are in a temperate climate. It’s not going to happen in the tropics (because of humidity).  All the examples were like that, out of context to my reality. And look, it is of course good to use examples from elsewhere and science is universal, but if to explain science you only use examples from elsewhere, if your role models don’t look like you, if the science is presented out of context, then you communicate the student or the general public: science might be interesting, but it is not for you.  It is not relevant to you. You don’t belong to science. As a kid, you get the message that there are kids for which science works and there are kids like me for whom science doesn’t work. Experiences like that influenced me in wanting to make science more accessible. The organization I founded has grown, I now have a role as a board member, and it is gratifying to see how science can positively impact communities. When science has barriers that exclude certain demographics, humanity loses and communities that are underserved by science also lose.”

The ELBE Visiting Faculty Program at CSBD continuously offers funded opportunities for researchers working in the area of its mission. During their stay, visiting faculty closely interact with research groups at the CSBD, with labs at the MPI-CBG, and with the Max-Planck-Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS).

]]>
2022 Institute News
news-1138 Fri, 25 Mar 2022 19:00:00 +0100 Vampires with genetic defects https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/vampires-with-genetic-defects Comprehensive genome analysis sheds light on nutrition and evolution of vampire bats Vampire bats live up to their name: they feed exclusively on the blood of other vertebrates, which they hunt in the dark. But how do they cope with this unbalanced diet? Blood contains a lot of protein, but sugar and fat are largely absent. A detailed analysis of the genome of the common vampire bat now provides new insights into the evolution of dietary adaptations and other abilities of these unique animals.

This international study, published in the journal Science Advances and led by scientists from the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics in Frankfurt and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, shows that vampire bats lack thirteen genes that other bat species possess. The DNA segments of these genes are still found in the vampire bat, but the genes have been destroyed by mutations such that their function has been lost. The researchers came to this conclusion by using a newly sequenced genome of the common vampire bat (Desmodus rotundus) and a broad comparison of the genomes of 26 other bat species.

According to the study, gene loss played a role in adaptations of these "living Draculas" to a diet that consists exclusively of blood. Two of the defective genes are responsible for the secretion of the blood sugar-regulating hormone insulin in other animals. Vampire bats, on the other hand, produce very little insulin and have apparently lost these two genes because their blood diet contains little sugar.

Whereas blood is low in carbohydrates and fats, the high iron content poses a major challenge: For example, vampire bats consume on average about 800 times more iron than humans. Interestingly, vampire bats have lost a gene that normally inhibits the transport of iron from the bloodstream into the cells of the inner wall of the intestine. Losing this gene likely contributes to the accumulation of excess iron in these intestinal cells. Because these short-lived cells – and with them the absorbed iron – are permanently excreted from the body, losing the gene likely helps vampire bats to regulate their iron balance. "The inactivation of this gene likely represents an adaptation to their iron-rich blood diet," reports Moritz Blumer from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, the first author of the study.

The scientists further assume that the loss of another gene could have had an influence on the evolution of certain cognitive abilities of vampire bats. These bats have also lost a gene that normally breaks down a metabolite in the brain that can have a positive effect on cognitive performance and social behaviour. A higher concentration of this metabolite can promote memory, learning and social behaviour, as several studies on other mammals suggest. Vampire bats have exceptional memory and social behaviour compared to other bat species. For example, they share blood with other starving roost mates, mainly with those who have helped them in the past – a behaviour that requires a good long-term social memory.

Important foundations of this comparative study were a new, high-quality genome of the common vampire bat, which was created using the latest sequencing technologies. Furthermore, a newly developed computational method was used that can detect losses of genes with high accuracy.

"But adaptations to this unique diet are not only due to the loss of genes," says Michael Hiller, Professor of Comparative Genomics at the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics who supervised the study. Moreover, there are two other vampire bat species besides the common vampire bat, whose genomes Hiller's team is currently sequencing. "Our goal is to get a complete picture of the genomic changes in all three vampire bat species. And there is still a lot to learn!" says Hiller.

]]>
2022 Scientific News
news-1137 Mon, 21 Mar 2022 15:00:45 +0100 A reservoir for insulin https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/a-reservoir-for-insulin International team of researchers show how insulin in alpha cells in the fruit fly Drosophila ensure proper development when food is scarce. The hormone insulin controls many aspects during the development of an organism. To better understand the role of insulin during growth and development, an international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany and the Institut Curie in Paris, France teamed up and looked at cells in the larvae of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster that are functionally similar to alpha cells in humans. Those alpha-like cells are usually known to secrete a hormone like glucagon when food is not available, which in turn elevates the glucose levels in the blood. Before the project idea was born, Suhrid Ghosh from the former lab of Suzanne Eaton at the MPI-CBG found a conserved family of insulin-like peptides called Dilps, the Drosophila version of human insulin, in alpha-like cells and was curious about where it came from and what its function was. So, he decided to take up those questions in his PhD project.

Together with the Electron Microscopy facility of the MPI-CBG, he and his colleagues were able to make the ultrastructure of the alpha cells in Drosophila visible. Suhrid explains: “With the high-resolution and high-contrast pictures, we were able to see the processes in stunning detail. We observed that Dilps is taken up by alpha cells, which explains how it gets into these cells. What was surprising, is that Drosophila glucagon, made by the alpha-like cell itself, and the hormone insulin have opposite functions and are stored in the same vesicle in the cell.” The researchers were then able to observe that alpha-like cells release the insulin reservoir when the organism is starving. This insulin is necessary to make the hormone ecdysone, which is needed for proper development. The study shows that local pools of stored insulin can signal to neighboring cells and it opens up the exciting possibility that previously known ‘long-range’ hormones could be used in local signaling events in other organisms.

]]>
2022 Scientific News
news-1134 Thu, 17 Mar 2022 08:40:26 +0100 ERC Consolidator Grant for Jan Brugués https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/erc-consolidator-grant-for-jan-brugues Funding to understand emergent physical properties of chromatin using synthetic nuclei Today, the European Research Council (ERC) announced the winners of its latest Consolidator Grant competition for ambitious mid-career researchers. Jan Brugués, research group leader both at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS) is one of the 313 laureates who were awarded the 2022 ERC Consolidator Grants. The funding is part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme, and the winners will receive in total 632 million Euros to tackle big scientific questions. In total, 2,652 applicants submitted proposals and 12% of them will receive the funding. Male and female applicants were equally successful in winning the grants. The future grantees will carry out their projects at universities and research centers across 24 EU Member States and associated countries. This new round of grants will create an estimated 1,900 jobs for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students and other staff at 189 host institutions.

Jan receives the grant for his project “Understanding emergent physical properties of chromatin using synthetic nuclei.” The main goal of this project is to resolve how the physics of molecular-scale activities result in the material properties of chromatin and how those contribute to chromatin organization and function. Jan Brugués explains: “With my project, I hope to provide a physical description of the material state of chromatin across different scales and contribute to reveal the basic physical principles that govern nuclear organization and function.”

Congratulations Jan!
In addition to Jan Brugués, two other Saxon researchers also received a Consolidator Grant: Stefan Kaiser, Professor for Ultrafast Solid State Physics and Photonics at TU Dresden and Gesa Hartwigsen, Research Group Leader on Cognition and Plasticity in the Human Brain at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences Leipzig. Saxony's Science Minister Sebastian Gemkow congratulates: "Congratulations to the grantees of this highly endowed award, which is granted by the European Union to particularly excellent and promising researchers. It not only shows the high quality of research in Saxony, but also, especially in these days, how important cooperation and unity in Europe are. For our social and economic development and not least competitiveness in the future, European research and innovation funding is an indispensable element."

About the ERC
The European Research Council, set up by the European Union in 2007, is the premiere European funding organization for excellent frontier research. Every year, it selects and funds the very best, creative researchers to run projects based in Europe. It offers four core grant schemes: Starting, Consolidator, Advanced and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between grantees' pioneering research and early phases of its commercialization.

ERC Press Release

Press Release of the Saxon State Ministry for Science, Culture and Tourism (in German)

]]>
2022 Institute News Grants
news-1132 Wed, 16 Mar 2022 10:51:26 +0100 Prestigious funding for bridging biophysics and evolution https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/prestigious-funding-for-bridging-biophysics-and-evolution HFSP Program Grant Award for Pavel Tomancak and his collaborative team The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) has announced the 2022 winners for the Research Grant applications. Pavel Tomancak, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), received the highly prestigious and competitive Program Grant Award. The HFSP Program Grants appeal to the innovative and creative potential of the research teams. This year, 37 million U.S. Dollar were awarded to support the top 4% of the HFSP research grant applicants over the coming 3 years. The 32 winning teams went through a rigorous selection process in a global competition that started with 716 submitted letters of intent involving scientists with their laboratories in more than 50 different countries. This year, 7 Research Grants - Early Career and 25 Research Grants - Program were selected for funding. Each team member receives on average 110,000 - 125,000 U.S. Dollar per year.

Congratulations, Pavel!
“HFSP funding is very unique. It is supporting investigation of fundamental problems in biology regardless of their perceived application potential. Something I like to call “stuff that matters,” says Pavel. He continues: “This is the third time my laboratory is supported by HFSP and the team is truly stellar. I am very happy to be back in the HFSP community.” Pavel Tomancak shares his award with three international colleagues: Cassandra Extavour (Harvard University, USA), Carl-Philipp Heisenberg (Institute of Science and Technology, Austria), and Andreas Hejnol (University of Bergen, Norway). With their joint project “Bridging biophysics and evolution: impact of intermediate filament evolution on tissue mechanics” the team of researchers wants to investigate interactions between mechanical and biochemical processes and how they evolve to give rise to the large diversity of shapes of life. With a comparative biophysics approach, the researchers aim to identify conserved and divergent mechanochemical interaction principles determining animal shape.

Congratulations to all 2022 winners!

Press Release HFSP
 

 

]]>
2022 Institute News Grants
news-1130 Thu, 10 Mar 2022 09:32:09 +0100 Fetal-maternal interface across species https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/fetal-maternal-interface-across-species New research group leader joins the MPI-CBG New MPI-CBG research group leader Claudia Gerri started at the institute in February. Claudia and her group are interested in studying how cell lineages are established, and how they communicate with each other and the surrounding microenvironment to build an organ. The group’s goal is to understand how the environmental cues and the neighbouring tissues influence early cell fate decisions, and how progenitor cells interpret these signals and react, thereby affecting their surroundings. The researchers aim to study a very enigmatic process of mammalian reproduction: the development of the fetal placenta and its interactions with the maternal tissues.

Claudia says: “The placenta is a very unique and fascinating organ. It is a transient and exists for a specific time in life, but it is fundamental for proper embryo development as it provides oxygen and nutrients to the growing baby. Without it, we would not be born! If we learn more about the biology of this organ, we can hope to improve therapeutic approaches in the future. At MPI-CBG and the Dresden campus in general, I hope to expand my knowledge towards biophysics and mechanobiology, and I am sure great collaborations will come along.”

Welcome to the institute, Claudia!​​​​​​​

Claudia Gerri studied Biology at the University of Milan in Italy, where she obtained her BSc in Biological Sciences and MSc in Molecular Biology. She moved to Germany in 2012 for her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim, where she joined the lab of Didier Stainier to study vascular biology in developing zebrafish embryos. In 2017, she joined the lab of Kathy Niakan at the Francis Crick Institute in London as a postdoctoral training fellow, before accepting a research group leader position at the MPI-CBG.

]]>
2022 Institute News
news-1128 Tue, 08 Mar 2022 13:12:11 +0100 Biopolis Dresden PhD Symposium 2022 https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/biopolis-dresden-phd-symposium-2022 A practical event for PhD Students by PhD Students The 5th Biopolis Dresden PhD Symposium took place on March 7 as a hybrid event. The symposium was launched in 2016 and is organised by PhD students for PhD students. The one day symposium brings together Natural Sciences PhD students from all graduate programs in Dresden and provides a forum to get to know each other and promote scientific exchange. The symposium featured a number of talks, chalk talks and posters by students. Stephan Grill and Barbara Ludwig delivered keynote addresses. The symposium also included a workshop on Speed-Reading by Friedrich Hasse. 

The organizing team hopes that the annual symposium can take place now every year again, after a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic in order to further develop the Dresden PhD research community.

]]>
2022 Institute News
news-1124 Thu, 03 Mar 2022 15:36:10 +0100 How Much to Regenerate? https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/how-much-to-regenerate The Yun group at CRTD and MPI-CBG identifies a protein determining positional identity in cells. Some animals can regenerate even complex organs. Salamanders can grow back the exact missing part of an arm and fully restore its function. This is possible as the cells that remain after the injury remember their original position within the limb. How this positional memory is encoded was a long-standing question in biology. A team of scientists led by Maximina Yun has now identified Tig1 as a protein determining cell position within the salamander’s limb. They show that Tig1 plays a central role in the salamander’s ability to regenerate correctly. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.

Humans have a limited ability to heal their bodies after injury. However, several animal species can regrow their tissues, organs, and even whole body parts. Among them, salamanders are known to have remarkable regeneration abilities. They can grow back fully functioning limbs in a matter of weeks. Regardless of what part of an arm they lose, salamanders are always able to grow back the exact part that is missing.

“Growing back the missing part of the organ sounds natural, yet it represents a significant biological challenge. The organism needs to first identify which exact part is missing. This means that the cells that remain in the stump need to know where they are in the context of the full structure. This positional information is key to regenerating the missing part,” says Maximina Yun, research group leader at the Center for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD) and Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), who led the study.

The Memory Factor

Scientists have long speculated that the information about a cell’s position within the organ or body part has to be somehow hard-wired into that cell. “We expected that this kind of positional memory, or identity, would ideally be present in a form of a gradient. For example, in the case of an arm, cells belonging to the shoulder would contain high amounts of such factor, yet its concentration within the cells would gradually decrease towards the fingers,” adds Yun. “In such a way, the amount of the factor would determine how far away from the core of the body a cell actually is.”

Dr. Yun worked together with the DRESDEN-concept Genome Center, Andras Simon’s group (Karolinska Institute, Sweden), and Tobias Gerber (EMBL Heidelberg). The team took advantage of the modern single-cell RNA (scRNA) sequencing technology to look for factors that could store the memory of the cell’s position. They analyzed the contents of single cells all along the salamander’s arm in the search for molecules that change in concentration and therefore could encode the positional information within the cell.

One protein stood out within the collected data. “We found that a protein known as Tig1 is actually expressed in a gradient in the salamander’s arm,” says Catarina Oliveira, main author of this study. “The further down the arm, the less Tig1 the cells have, making it the perfect candidate for a factor that could store the memory of cell’s position within the limb.”

More than an Indicator

Tig1 is a protein present on the surface of the cells. Being projected on the outside of the cell, the scientists thought that it is only storing the information about the cell position. “We were truly surprised to see what happened when we modified the levels of Tig1 in cells. When we tuned up the level of Tig1 in cells destined to become part of the hand, which normally have very little of it, these cells reprogramed their molecular identity to that of cells that will become part of the forearm,” says Yun. When the levels of Tig1 were changed, so were the genes that were expressed. The pattern of gene expression was now matching the cells that would normally be present higher up in the salamander limb. “This shows that Tig1 is not only indicating the position of a cell within the limb, but it is likely one of the factors that actually determine it,” adds Yun.

The team has also shown that Tig1 is crucial for salamanders to regenerate correctly. Indeed, changing the levels of the protein in cells of a regrowing arm leads to growth defects. This further highlights the importance of Tig1 in the regeneration process and specifically, in deciding just how much to regenerate.

A Significant Milestone

This work answers a long-standing question in the fields of regeneration and developmental biology. So far, only a handful of other molecules have been associated with the positional identity of the cells. This is also the first example of a protein present on the surface of the cell which can reprogram the pattern of gene expression within the cell towards a “proximal” positional identity, i.e., a forearm identity.

Although the results come from salamanders, Tig1 may play a similar role in other animals. “Tig1 is highly conserved across evolution. This means that it is present in a rather unchanged form in many animals. It remains to be seen if Tig1 determines positional identity in other species as well,” explains Yun.

The researchers would like to build on these findings and explore the mechanism by which Tig1 can determine the positional identity of cells. The team is already looking for Tig1 protein partners, both at the cell surface as well as inside the cells. “One way Tig1 can influence gene expression inside the cells is through impacting the mechanical properties of the cells,” says Yun. “We are happy that our group is now also associated to the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) at the TU Dresden, allowing us to partner with excellent biophysicists to investigate the mechanism of Tig1 function in detail.”

]]>
2022 Scientific News
news-1122 Thu, 10 Feb 2022 17:00:00 +0100 Flowing by gelating https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/flowing-by-gelating Dresden researchers show that gelation enables the correct architecture of the mitotic spindle. In the cell, the mitotic spindle is a structure that forms during cell division and segregates the chromosomes into the two future daughter cells. Spindles are made of dynamic filaments called microtubules that are continuously transported towards the two opposite poles of the spindle by molecular motors. However, scientists still do not understand how these poleward flows are generated and how they lead to spindle self-organization.

Researchers in the group led by Jan Brugués at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS) and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), worked together with Frank Jülicher’s research group at the MPI-PKS to understand how such poleward flows are generated in spindles. In 2018, the Brugués lab was able to show that the size of spindles is controlled by microtubule branching: In the vicinity of DNA, new microtubules branch off from mother microtubules like branches in a tree. However, such a branching process naturally leads to microtubules branching outwards from chromosomes, whereas in real spindles they branch inwards to interact with chromosomes during segregation.

In the current study, published in the journal Nature Physics, the scientists combined in vitro experiments with physical models to show that the poleward flows together with a gelation process driven by motor crosslinking, allows for the correct microtubule inward branching observed in spindles. Benjamin Dalton an author in the study, explains, “The spindle is a highly dynamic structure where its building blocks are constantly created, transported and destroyed within seconds. Still, the spindle can survive for as long as an hour and the microtubule flows are remarkably constant throughout the structure. It’s difficult to reconcile these things.” David Oriola, another author in the study explains, “By tracking the movement of single microtubules using fluorescent microscopy, we found that the spindle did not behave as a simple fluid, but rather as a gel.” Combining large-scale simulations with experimental data, the researchers found that gelation is necessary for the generation of the poleward flows, and in turn, such flows are in charge of organizing the microtubule network such that microtubules point inwards rather than outwards.

]]>
2022 Scientific News
news-1120 Thu, 03 Feb 2022 17:00:00 +0100 Reading DNA is team work https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/reading-dna-is-team-work Dresden researchers explain how liquid-like protein droplets collectively read DNA regions to switch on genes. Life starts with one cell. When an organism develops, dividing cells specialize to form the variety of tissues and organs that build up the adult body, while keeping the same genetic material – contained in our DNA. In a process known as transcription, parts of the DNA – the genes ­– are copied into a messenger molecule -the ribonucleic acid (RNA) – that carries the information needed to produce proteins, the building blocks of life. The parts of our DNA that are read and transcribed determine the fate of our cells. The readers of the DNA are proteins called transcription factors: they bind to specific sites on the DNA and activate the transcription process. How they recognize which location on the DNA they need to bind to and how these are distinguished from other random binding sites in the genome remains an open question. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS), both located in Dresden, show that thousands of individual transcription factors team up and interact with each other. They collectively wet the DNA surface by forming liquid droplets that can identify clusters of binding sites on the DNA surface.

Transcription, one of the most fundamental cellular processes, is the action by which the information contained in the DNA is transcribed into the messenger molecule RNA. This "message" is later translated into proteins. Deciding which parts of the DNA are transcribed at any given moment is crucial for proper development to maintain the health of an organism, because many diseases are likely to occur when the genetic programs are not executed correctly. The decision as to which genes are transcribed is made by a complex network of regulatory proteins called transcription factors. While these factors bind to short DNA sequences, the recognition of clusters of many such sequences is required to switch on nearby genes.

The research groups of Stephan Grill and Anthony Hyman, both directors at the MPI-CBG, and the group of Frank Jülicher, director at the MPI-PKS investigated in their recent study in the journal Nature Physics how transcription factors find and recognize clusters of many specific DNA sequences where they can bind and lead to gene activation. To find this out, the researchers followed an interdisciplinary approach, combining expertise in experimental and theoretical biophysics with cell biology. Jose A. Morin, one of the first authors of the study, explains: “We employed optical tweezers – a technology that uses lasers to isolate and manipulate very small objects such as single DNA molecules – combined with confocal microscopy to look at them individually. With optical tweezers it is possible to capture a single DNA molecule and with confocal microscopy we can observe transcription factors binding and forming protein condensates at their preferred DNA sequences. The fact that we can study this process one molecule at the time allowed us to detect interactions otherwise blurred by the complexity of the living cell.” Sina Wittmann, another first author, adds: “With the help of the physicists, we were able to understand how transcription factors communicate with each other and assemble through team work. They undergo what is called a prewetting transition to form liquid-like droplets, which are similar to the drops on a mirror in your bathroom after a shower. These condensates are filled with thousands of transcription factors. Assembled in this way, the transcription factors can now identify the correct DNA region by reading out DNA sequence.”

Stephan Grill summarizes: “We now have a possible mechanistic explanation for the localisation of transcription factors along the genome. This is essential to understand how gene expression is regulated. Since we know that this regulation breaks down in developmental diseases and cancer, these new results give us a clearer picture of how these diseases occur. This knowledge is important to think about new therapeutic options that take the team work of transcription factors into account.”

The research labs of Anthony Hyman, Stephan Grill and Frank Jülicher are also affiliated with both the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) and the Cluster of Excellence “Physics of Life” (PoL) at the TU Dresden. The CSBD is a cooperation between the MPI-CBG, the MPI-PKS and the TU Dresden. In the interdisciplinary center, physicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, and biologists work together to understand how cells coordinate their behavior to form tissues and organs of a given form or function. The Cluster of Excellence PoL of TU Dresden seeks to shed light on the laws of physics that underlie the self-organization of life into molecules, cells and tissues. At the cluster, funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation), a cross-disciplinary team of scientists joins forces to investigate how active living matter organizes itself to give rise to life.

]]>
Press Releases 2022 Scientific News
news-1118 Mon, 17 Jan 2022 11:00:00 +0100 Development of fatty liver disease under a healthy diet https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/development-of-fatty-liver-disease-under-a-healthy-diet New study identifies two genes, previously reported to be involved in cancer, as regulators of the metabolic state of the liver. Alterations in these genes influence the likelihood of developing fatty liver disease. The epidemic of obesity worldwide has increased the risk of accumulating fat in the liver, a preamble to liver inflammation and liver disease. Yet, a still intriguing paradox is the development of fatty liver in lean and normal-weight individuals and in individuals following a healthy diet. Scientists know that two genes, RNF43 and ZNRF3, are mutated in liver cancer patients. However, their role in the development of liver cancer was unknown so far. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, describe now that a loss or mutation of these genes causes an accumulation of lipids and inflammation in the liver in non-obese mice fed a normal diet. These genetic alterations not only increase the accumulation of fat but also the number of liver cells (hepatocytes) in proliferation. In human patients, these alterations also increase the risk of developing NASH and fatty liver and reduce the patient’s survival time. These findings might facilitate the discovery of people at risk and could promote novel therapeutic interventions and better management of the disease.

The liver is our central metabolic organ, which is vital for detoxification and digestion. Chronic liver diseases, such as cirrhosis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH, inflamed liver), as well as liver cancer, are on the rise worldwide, with a combined mortality of two million individuals dying each year. It is therefore more important than ever to understand their causes and the underlying molecular mechanisms of liver diseases in order to prevent, manage, and treat these increasing patient population subgroups. Previous cancer genomic studies identified RNF43 and ZNRF3, as genes mutated in colon and liver cancer patients. However, their role in liver disease has been unexplored. The research lab of Meritxell Huch at the MPI-CBG, together with colleagues at the Gurdon Institute (Cambridge, UK) and at the University of Cambridge, has now investigated the mechanisms by which alterations in these two genes can affect the emergence of liver diseases. Their study is published in the journal Nature Communications.

To pursue this goal, the researchers worked with mice as an animal model, data from human individuals, human tissues, and liver organoid cultures, which are 3D cellular microstructures made out of hepatocytes that resemble liver in a dish. Germán Belenguer, first author of the study and postdoctoral researcher in the group of Meritxell Huch, explains, “With the organoid, we were able to grow hepatocytes mutated only in these genes, and we saw that the loss of these activates a signal that regulates the metabolism of lipids. As a result, the fat metabolism is no longer under control and lipids accumulate in the liver, which leads in turn to a fatty liver. Another result of the activated signal is that hepatocytes multiply uncontrollably. Both mechanisms combined facilitate the progression towards fatty liver disease and cancer.” The scientists then compared the results from the experiments with patient data in a publicly available dataset from the International Cancer Genome Consortium. They evaluated the prognosis of survival when the two genes are mutated in liver cancer patients and found that patients with these mutated genes show fatty liver disease and have a worse prognosis than liver cancer patients with the two genes unmutated.

“Our findings can help identify individuals with a RNF43/ZNRF3 mutation and therefore at risk of developing a fatty liver or liver cancer,” says Meritxell Huch. She continues, “With the alarming increase in the consumption of fat and sugar worldwide, recognizing those individuals already predisposed because of bearing those genetic mutations might be important for the therapeutic intervention and management of the disease, especially at very early stages or even before the disease is initiated. We will need more studies to further characterize the roles of the two genes in human fatty liver disease, NASH, and human liver cancer and to identify therapeutics that could help those patients that are already intrinsically predisposed to develop the disease.”

]]>
2022 Scientific News Press Releases
news-1116 Mon, 20 Dec 2021 10:39:00 +0100 Ivo Sbalzarini is the new Dean of the faculty of computer science https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/ivo-sbalzarini-is-the-new-dean-of-the-faculty-of-computer-science The Faculty of Computer Science of TU Dresden elected Ivo Sbalzarini as its new Dean The Faculty Council of the department of Computer Science of TU Dresden elected Ivo Sbalzarini as the new Dean of Computer Science in its constitutive meeting on December 15, 2021. Ivo Sbalzarini is Professor of Scientific Computing for Systems Biology at TU Dresden and Research Group Leader at the MPI-CBG. Ivo Sbalzarini thanks everyone for the trust put in him with this election. He succeeds Uwe Aßmann, Professor of Software Technology, who led the Faculty of Computer Science as its Dean from 2016 until now: “I am pleased to hand over my office to Ivo Sbalzarini, whom I value highly as a colleague and as a person.  Not only is he an excellent scientist with a structured and goal-oriented way of working, but as previous vice dean, he has already often represented the faculty inside and outside the university in an exemplary manner. We will be happy to support him, because the upcoming topics, such as the promotion of excellent computer science research and high-quality teaching, will require active shaping in the coming years as well.”

Ivo Sbalzarini adds: “The coming years hold great potential for the Faculty of Computer Science of TU Dresden: new professorships, new curricula, new centers, and hopefully a new building will bring not only growth, but above all, room for creativity. I am committed to ensuring that these developments are rooted in a strong and coherent scientific vision and are driven forward in a collegial and harmonious atmosphere. Thus, I would like to use these opportunities constructively and positively to not only bring our faculty and the entire Dresden campus further forward in the quality of the important future topic of digital sciences, but also to promote diversity as the basis for creativity in an atmosphere of mutual respect.”

Ivo Sbalzarini joined the MPI-CBG in 2012 as a research group leader and also became a Professor of Computer Science at TU Dresden in 2014. He also heads the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) as one of its directors. With his research group, Ivo Sbalzarini develops innovative computational approaches and algorithms for questions in modern biology. In doing so, his research group combines knowledge from computer science, mathematics, physics, and biology to develop and apply computational methods for the study of biological processes in 3D.

]]>
2021 Institute News
news-1114 Thu, 09 Dec 2021 16:00:00 +0100 Catch me if you can: how mRNA therapeutics are delivered into cells https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/catch-me-if-you-can-how-mrna-therapeutics-are-delivered-into-cells Researchers have found where and how mRNA arrives in a cell to modify or deliver genetic information, a crucial process for the development of novel therapies. In recent years, ribonucleic acid (RNA) has emerged as a powerful tool for the development of novel therapies. RNA is used to copy genetic information contained in our hereditary material, the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and then serves as a template for building proteins, the building blocks of life. Delivery of RNA into cells remains a major challenge for the development of novel therapies across a broad range of diseases. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden together with researchers from the global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca have investigated where and how mRNA is delivered inside the cell. They found that mRNA uses an unexpected entry door. Their results provide novel insights into the development of RNA therapeutics towards efficient delivery and lower dosages.

DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) contains the genetic information required for the development and maintenance of life. This information is communicated by messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) to make proteins. mRNA-based therapeutics have the potential to address unmet needs for a wide variety of diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. mRNA can be delivered to cells to trigger the production, degradation or modification of a target protein, something impossible with other approaches. A key challenge with this modality is being able to deliver the mRNA inside the cell so that it can be translated to make a protein. mRNA can be packed into lipid nanoparticles (LNPs) ­– small bubbles of fat ­– that protect the mRNA and shuttle it into cells. However, this process is not simple, because the mRNA has to pass the membrane before it can reach its site of action in the cell interior, the cytoplasm.

Researchers in the team of MPI-CBG director Marino Zerial are experts in visualizing the cellular entry routes of molecules in the cell, such as mRNA with high-resolution microscopes. They teamed up with scientists from AstraZeneca who provided the researchers with lipid nanoparticle prototypes that they had developed for therapeutic approaches to follow the mRNA inside the cell. The study is published in the Journal of Cell Biology.

 “To be delivered, the mRNA must make a long journey. Enclosed in the fatty LNP bubble, it needs to get into the cell first,” explains Marino Zerial. “The LNPs arrive at the cell surface where they bind to receptors. They are then taken up into specialized membrane-enclosed compartments called endosomes. At this point, the mRNA is inside the cells but surrounded by two barriers, the fatty bubble and the endosome wall or more correctly, membrane. The challenge for the mRNA is to escape both barriers to reach the cytoplasm where it serves as a template to make proteins. We know that only a tiny fraction of RNA molecules are able to escape into the cytoplasm.” Internalized cargo molecules, like the LNPs, are first transported to "early" endosomes. These are logistic centres that distribute cargo molecules to various destinations in the cell. They either recycle molecules to the cell surface or degrade them in late endosomes and lysosomes. So far, people thought that the mRNA escapes from late endosomes exploiting their very acidic content. “With single molecule microscopy techniques", explains Prasath Paramasivam, the first author of the study, "we could visualize for the first time the mRNA in the LNP inside the endosomes of cells. We also captured the actual escape of the mRNA, which happened in the tubules of the recycling endosomes, which are only mildly acidic." "Our results imply that sending the LNP-mRNA to late endosomes is counterproductive for delivery and only increases cell toxicity." says Zerial. These findings help understanding the mechanism of mRNA escape from endosomes in more detail.

Marino Zerial summarizes: “The LNP delivery system for mRNA necessitates high doses due to the low endosomal escape efficiency. Knowing where the mRNA goes and how it can escape the endosomes allows us to develop better vehicles for more efficient delivery, at lower dosage. We can improve the mRNA delivery system so it can be used for therapeutic applications, for example cancer treatment.”

]]>
Press Releases 2021 Scientific News
news-1112 Wed, 08 Dec 2021 09:30:00 +0100 How hairdryers and balloons inspired next-level force measurements https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/how-hairdryers-and-balloons-inspired-next-level-force-measurements Max Planck researchers measure femtoNewton forces with light-induced flows In a biological cell, many processes involve tiny mechanical forces. In a new study, published in the journal eLight, the research group around Moritz Kreysing from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) has developed an entirely new approach to trapping micron-sized particles that are frequently used to sense the smallest forces.

In particular, the researchers were able to stably hold microscopic objects by inducing fluid flows with light, similar to a balloon, which is kept aloft with a hairdryer. Monitoring the small displacements of these particles from their stability point, the researchers successfully detected forces about one billion times smaller than a butterfly's wing flap.

Moritz Kreysing says: “We had previously used light-induced flows to move the interior of biological cells and to position particles with nanometer-scale precision. While doing so, an easy task has always been to reduce the speed of these flows. We found that the forces acting on a particle were not only incredibly small, but also suitable to precisely counteract and quantify external forces acting on that particle.”

In contrast to optical tweezers, the method does not require the direct exposure of particles to laser light. Therefore, the authors, including the recent University of Cambridge alumnus and first author of the eLight article, Iliya Stoev, state that they expect "this novel approach to be highly relevant to address rising concerns regarding non-physiological effects of highly focused radiation on living systems." As this presents a new method to sense femtoNewton forces, the authors expect a transformative impact well beyond the life sciences.

This research received funding from the Volkswagen Foundation.

Text: Christopher Edwards

]]>
2021 Scientific News
news-1110 Mon, 06 Dec 2021 17:00:00 +0100 Gas bubbles in rock pores – a nursery for life on Early Earth https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/gas-bubbles-in-rock-pores-a-nursery-for-life-on-early-earth Dresden and Munich researchers create compelling scenario for the evolution of membraneless microdroplets on Early Earth as the origin of life. Where and how did life begin on Early Earth more than 3.5 billion years ago from non-living chemicals? Discovering the answer to this question has long been debated and is a challenge for scientists. One thing that scientists can look for is potential environments that allowed life to spark. A key necessity for the first cells on Earth is the ability to make compartments and evolve to facilitate the first chemical reactions. Membraneless coacervate microdroplets are excellent candidates to describe protocells, with the ability to partition, concentrate molecules and support biochemical reactions. Scientists have not yet shown how those microdroplets could have evolved to start life on earth. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and at the Center for NanoScience (CeNS) at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in Munich now demonstrate for the first time, that the growth and division of membraneless microdroplets is possible in an environment which is similar to gas bubbles within a heated rock pore on Early Earth. Suggesting that life may have had its origin there.

The team around Dora Tang, a research group leader at the MPI-CBG, showed in 2018 that simple RNA is active within membraneless microdroplets, enabling a suitable chemical environment for the beginning of life. Those experiments were conducted in a simple aqueous environment, where competing forces were balanced. Cells, however, need an environment where they can continuously divide and evolve. To find a more suitable scenario for the origin of life experiments, Dora teamed up with Dieter Braun, professor for Systems Biophysics at the LMU in Munich. His group developed conditions with a non-balanced environment that allow multiple reactions in a single setting and where cells could evolve. Those cells though are not like the cells we know today, but more like precursors to today’s cells, also called protocells, made of coacervates with no membrane.

The environment, created by the Braun lab is a likely scenario on Early Earth, where porous rocks in water in proximity of volcanic activities were partially heated.  For their experiments, Dora and Dieter used water-containing pores with a gas bubble and a thermal gradient (a hot and a cold pole) in order to see if the protocells would divide and evolve. Alan Ianeselli, first author of the study and PhD student in the lab of Dieter Braun, explains: “We knew that the interface of the gas and the water attracted molecules. Protocells localize and accumulate there, and assemble into larger ones. This is why we chose this particular setting.” The researchers indeed observed that molecules and protocells went to the gas-water interface to form larger protocells out of sugar, amino acids and RNA. Alan continues: “We also observed that the protocells were able to divide and fragment. These results represent a possible mechanism for the growth and division of membrane-free protocells on the Early Earth.” In addition to division and evolution, the researchers found that as a consequence of the thermal gradient, several types of protocells with different chemical composition, size and physical properties had formed. Therefore, the thermal gradient in this environment could have driven an evolutionary selection pressure on membraneless protocells.

Dora Tang and Dieter Braun, who supervised the study, summarize: “This work shows for the first time that the gas bubble within a heated rock pore is a convincing scenario for the evolution of membrane-free coacervate microdroplets on Early Earth. Future studies could focus on more possible habitats and explore further conditions for life to emerge.”

]]>
Press Releases 2021 Scientific News
news-1108 Thu, 18 Nov 2021 15:28:00 +0100 Tony Hyman and Kai Simons included in the 2021 list of the “Global Highly Cited Researchers” https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/tony-hyman-and-kai-simons-included-in-the-2021-list-of-the-global-highly-cited-researchers Two MPI-CBG researchers and 70 Max Planck researchers are amongst 6,600 international researchers on the "Global Highly Cited Researchers" list compiled annually by Clarivate Analytics. Clarivate Plc, a global leader in providing trusted information and insights to accelerate the pace of innovation, unveiled its 2021 list of Highly Cited Researchers™. The methodology that determines the “who’s who” of influential researchers draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at the Institute for Scientific Information™ at Clarivate. Anthony Hyman, managing director at the MPI-CBG and Kai Simons, director Emeritus and one of the founding MPI-CBG directors, are among 6602 researchers from across the globe who demonstrated significant influence in their chosen field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. 

331 Highly Cited Researchers™ come from Germany and 70 from the Max Planck Society. The Highly Cited Researchers’ names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science™ citation index, and the list identifies the research institutions and countries where they are based.

News article of the Max Planck Society: https://www.mpg.de/17862304/highly-cited-researchers

]]>
2021 Institute News
news-1106 Wed, 20 Oct 2021 09:49:00 +0200 TU Dresden awards Kai Simons with Badge of Honour https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/tu-dresden-awards-kai-simons-with-badge-of-honour Recognition of outstanding individual achievements for the benefit of the TU Dresden The TU Dresden has honored members of the university who have made outstanding contributions to the benefit of the university through extraordinary accomplishments and special individual achievements. Six badges of honor were awarded to Alexander Busch, Prof. Manfred Curbach, Prof. Horst-Peter Götting, Prof. Ellen Hieckmann, Prof. Michael Kobel and Prof. Kai Simons. Prof. Stefan Bornstein was awarded a medal of honor.

Kai Simons is one of the founding directors of the MPI-CBG. He led the institute as its first managing director and has had an impact far beyond its borders as a tireless driving force for the life sciences and biotechnologies in Dresden. His initiative, energy and vision were crucial in establishing Dresden as a global location for biotechnology and in making the life sciences an important element of the TU Dresden excellence strategy. As a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at TU Dresden, he played a key role in planning and shaping the teaching of the life sciences and also served as a member of the TU Dresden University Council. 

Congratulations, Kai!

]]>
2021 Institute News