MPI-CBG News-Feed Latest News of the MPI-CBG en TYPO3 News Sun, 14 Apr 2024 12:23:34 +0200 Sun, 14 Apr 2024 12:23:34 +0200 TYPO3 EXT:news news-1384 Wed, 03 Apr 2024 10:43:36 +0200 Prestigious funding to understand the regeneration of jellyfish HFSP Program Grant Award for Carl Modes and collaborators The International Human Frontier Science Program Organization (HFSPO) has announced the 2024 winners for the Research Grant applications. Carl Modes, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and at the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), received the highly prestigious and competitive Program Grant Award together with two international collaborators: Chiara Sinigaglia (Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), France) and Ulyana Shimanovich (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel). With their joint project “From nano to organismal scale: structural regulation of regenerating jellyfish,” the team of researchers addresses fundamental and unresolved questions of regenerative biology by looking at the marine jellyfish Clytia hemisphaerica. Clytia hemisphaerica boasts excellent repair capacities: wounds heal within 12 hours, and organs regenerate in a week. Program Grants are awarded to teams of two to four scientists, at any stage of their careers, who embark upon a new collaborative project.


As the fundamental cellular mechanisms and tissue behaviors are shared across living organisms, the jellyfish provides a simplified platform for understanding complex regenerative processes and the emerging properties of real, living tissues. “I am very happy to be part of the HFSP community through this funding. Here in Dresden, my group and I plan to build the theoretical framework for both regenerative medicine and the properties of self-healing materials,” explains Carl Modes. “These models will be based on geometric and topological aspects of theoretical biophysics and computational biology, and we hope they will enable us to capture how different classes of injuries affect regeneration.”

For 2024, HFSP has chosen to support 34 Research Grant  project teams (Program Grants and Early Career Grants) that include 108 scientists representing 23 nations. Each grant will last for three years and on average, each award is for $400,000 USD per year. For their awards, the HFSP seeks scientists who form internationally, preferably intercontinentally, collaborative teams, who have not worked together before, and who are engaging in work for which they have no preliminary data. In this regard, HFSP fosters frontier research and science diplomacy.

Congratulations to all 2024 winners!

Press Release HFSP


2024 Institute News Grants Frontpage News
news-1382 Thu, 21 Mar 2024 09:35:03 +0100 Marie Skłodowska-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship for Jinghui Liu Postoctoral researcher receives prestigious fellowship to study electrical environmental changes in damaged tissues. Postdoctoral researcher Jinghui Liu, in the research group of Rita Mateus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life at the TU Dresden, received a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Action (MSCA) Postdoctoral Fellowship for her project “Electrical signaling and growth control in zebrafish fin regeneration.” The MSCA fellowship is part of Horizon Europe, the European Union’s flagship funding program for research and innovation. The European Commission awarded 260 million euros to 1,249 post-doctoral researchers to work at top universities, research centers, private and public organizations, and small and medium-sized enterprises. The European Research Executive Agency received 8,039 applications for this call, of which 15.8% were selected for funding.

Jinghui explains: “In my project, I want to uncover the dynamic electrical environmental changes that cells are exposed to upon organ damage and how these can be coupled with biochemical signaling towards the start of proliferation. By working with the regenerating zebrafish larval fin as a model, my goal is to establish quantitative approaches across length and time scales that can have a broad impact in the emerging field of bioelectricity. This is a highly interdisciplinary project that relies on strong interactions with, amongst others, the research group of Frank Jülicher at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems.”

MSCA Postdoctoral Fellowships enhance the creative and innovative potential of researchers holding a PhD and wishing to acquire new skills through advanced training and international, interdisciplinary, and inter-sectoral mobility. The funding supports researchers ready to pursue frontier research and innovation projects in Europe and worldwide, including in the non-academic sector.

Congratulations, Jinghui!

Press Release of the European Commission:

2024 Institute News
news-1380 Fri, 15 Mar 2024 12:57:06 +0100 Mistakes in protein production impacts cell fitness Dresden computational biologists create a proteome-wide model to map mistakes in protein production and their effects on cell fitness. Cells of organisms usually process genetic information accurately to keep them healthy and functional. But sometimes mistakes can happen during the process of translating genetic information into proteins, one of the the building blocks of our cells. In this case, the wrong amino acid is built into a protein. While most of these mistakes might not affect the health of a cell, some could actually change how a protein works. To understand the effects of these specific mistakes better, it is crucial to know how often these mistakes happen in all the proteins a cell makes and how they affect evolution. 

Three researchers, Cedric Landerer, Jonas Poehls and, Agnes Toth-Petroczy from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), now present the first study that shows how protein-making mistakes are distributed in the proteome (the entire set of proteins), how often they happen, and what the wrong protein means for the health and functionality of a cell.

The first author of the study, Cedric Landerer, explains, “We studied two organisms, the bacterium E. coli and S. cerevisiae (also known as brewer’s or baker’s yeast), and found that about 20–23% of all proteins in these cells could have at least one mistake in them. Interestingly, harmful mistakes were less common. We trained our model using data from mass spectrometry experiments that detected these mistakes.”

“In general, it seems that the cells we studied have a pretty good system in place to handle mistakes during protein-making,” says research group leader Agnes Toth-Petroczy. “With our  pipeline and the mechanistic model, we can now explore how accurate protein-making is for many different species. We can also look at how protein-making accuracy changes in different situations, like when cells are stressed or during diseases.”

2024 Scientific News
news-1378 Mon, 11 Mar 2024 11:32:59 +0100 The Magic of the Collective Autobiography of MPI-CBG founding director Kai Simons One of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Kai Simons, published his autobiography “The Magic of the Collective.” First it was published in Swedish in 2021 with the title “Forskningens olidliga lätthet.” His memoir is a reflection on many aspects of modern scientific research, including the current dominance of competition over collaboration, scientific fraud and whistleblowing, and the dichotomy between science and the arts. Also, it touches on the influence of modern biology on science and society, from social Darwinism to the response to COVID-19 vaccines.

Kai Simons says, “The book is about my scientific journey, especially about my experience of building research environments, how I first helped to build up the new Haartman Institute in Helsinki, then the “Cell Biology Program” at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL) in Heidelberg, and finally, of course, the foundation of the MPI-CBG here in Dresden. I wanted to describe how we managed to establish multidisciplinary environments where it was easier to solve research problems through cooperation and to do that without too much unnecessary pressure - Happy MPI-CBG”. 

It was the COVID-19 pandemic that gave Kai Simons the push to write about his life as a scientist. Over the past years, he had filled many notebooks with the events of his life. During the lockdown, Kai read the notebooks again and was able to focus on his book. It took him three months to write the Swedish version of the book.

“I have written the book for young researchers to give them inspiration not only for doing research in general but also to give them ideas on how to improve their own research environments. Maybe one day someone will make use of the book as a guide for founding a new research institute. That would make me more than happy,” says Kai Simons.

Kai Simons was born in 1938 in Helsinki, Finland. In 1964, he graduated from the University of Helsinki as a medical doctor, followed by postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University in New York, USA. Back at the University of Helsinki, he was a professor in the area of biochemistry between 1971 and 1979, next to a position as investigator at the Finnish Medical Research Council from 1967 to 1975. Kai Simons joined the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1975 as a research group leader, where he then built up the Cell Biology Programme from 1982–1998. He was the managing director in the team of founding directors of the MPI-CBG. In 2006, he became Director Emeritus. Now he  is the CEO of Lipotype GmbH.

The Magic of the Collective” book is available as e-book or as paperback.

2024 Institute News
news-1372 Mon, 22 Jan 2024 11:43:56 +0100 MAX!imize your research ideas Two Max Planck research teams receive funding for future spin-offs “Allergator” and “Vulcan.” Two research teams at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) have been successful at securing funding from the start-up incubator program of the Max Planck Society, called MAX!mize. The two-phase program supports scientists planning to become entrepreneurs. It offers access to dedicated funds, an experienced start-up coach, and regular workshops to guide scientists along their entrepreneurial journey. The project “Allergator” secured phase one funding equivalent to 50,000 euros for the next six months, while the project “Vulcan” has received phase two funding of 220,000 euros for 18 months.

The project Allergator aims to enable sustainable cat-keeping for families with cat-allergic members. In the next six months, the team of postdoctoral researchers Hendrik Sikkema and Benedikt Kuhn, along with technology development research group leader Eric Geertsma, will validate a relevant market need, define the technology and product roadmap, and build a strong team. Benedikt Kuhn explains: “For the most prominent cat allergen, Fel d 1, we have developed tiny binding proteins that neutralize the allergen and prevent it from triggering an immune response.”

With "Vulcan," postdoctoral researcher Juan Iglesias-Artola and former postdoctoral researcher Anatol Fritsch aim at commercializing temperature-controlled microscope stages accompanied by software that allows users to perform complex temperature experiments. Juan Iglesias-Artola explains, “Anatol and I have identified that light microscopy studies often require an accurate control of temperature. Most devices available, unfortunately, only allow for heating, change temperature slowly, and are not interchangeable between microscopes. They also do not offer a user interface that allows for exporting the temperature data over the course of the experiment. With our start-up, we aim at solving these issues.” Anyone who is interested in being part of the demo community can get in contact with the research team via email.

2024 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1361 Thu, 07 Dec 2023 13:27:19 +0100 BioMedRТC: A Bulgarian-German research alliance in the making Funding to plan a new research center Earlier this year, the European Commission approved an initial proposal to establish a Biomedical Research and Technology Center for Excellence (BioMedRТC) in Sofia, Bulgaria, with a full proposal due in March 2024. The vision of the future center is to do advanced research in the fields of rare diseases, genomic stability, and cancer. The funding program “Teaming for Excellence” is part of the European Union HORIZON-WIDERA program, which addresses the key areas of widening participation and strengthening the European Research Area. The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the Curie Institute in Paris are advanced partners for the planned institute. The coordinator on the Bulgarian side is the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences.

The Bulgarian Prime Minister, Nikolay Denkov, met with representatives of MPI-CBG and IMB in Sofia on December 5, 2023. Along with the project leader Stoyno Stoynov, the director of IMB, Anastas Gospodinov, MPI-CBG director Stephan Grill, and MPI-CBG technology development group leader, Mihail Sarov, they met with the Bulgarian prime minister. The participants at the meeting talked about the goals of BioMedRTC, which will investigate the molecular mechanisms behind rare genetic diseases, genetic stability maintenance, and the development of anti-cancer medications. It was mentioned at the meeting that the new center will be crucial to advancing research in Bulgaria in the fields of cancer and clinical genetics.

After their meeting with the Prime Minister, the researchers from MPI-CBG and the IMB met with the deputy minister of science and education of Bulgaria, Genka Petrova, and afterwards with the German ambassador in Bulgaria, Irene Maria Plank.

Following the successful first round of evaluation, funding of approximately 1.5 million euros has been granted by the National Roadmap for Scientific Infrastructure to prepare for the realization of the project’s vision. If the proposal succeeds in the next round of the competition, BioMedRТC is planned to be implemented from 2025 in Sofia, Bulgaria, with a funding of up to 15 million euros from the European Union and matching funding from the Bulgarian national government. The idea is to shape it after the models of the advanced partner institutes, MPI-CBG and the Curie Institute.

2023 Institute News
news-1360 Thu, 30 Nov 2023 13:05:12 +0100 A day to bring Machine Learning to Biology data analysis Symposium brings Dresden and Leipzig researchers together The Machine Learning in Biology Symposium, organized by the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) of the TU Dresden, took place on November 29th, 2023, at the MPI-CBG. Around 80 researchers from Dresden and Leipzig institutes came together to showcase research in machine learning applied to biology from their communities.

Machine learning is rapidly expanding and plays a crucial role in solving various problems, including in biophysics. Data analysis in life sciences stands to gain immensely from advanced tools developed by machine learning experts. The aim of the symposium was to bridge these two worlds and demonstrate how advanced techniques can significantly enhance research in different biological contexts.

The symposium included presentations on techniques and highlighted various examples of how to use machine learning as a tool to optimize and improve data analysis in different biology contexts. Local experts from the TU Dresden, the MPI-CBG, the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences (MPI MiS), the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), and the National Center for Tumor Diseases Dresden (NCT/UCC) presented their ideas and research. The organizers of this symposium are hoping to create connections between people who are developing machine-learning tools and those with an interest in applying them to problems in biology and biological physics.

2023 Institute News
news-1357 Mon, 20 Nov 2023 11:08:48 +0100 New computer code for mechanics of tissues and cells in three dimensions Open-source supercomputer algorithm predicts patterning and dynamics of living materials and enables studying their behavior in space and time.  Biological materials are made of individual components, including tiny motors that convert fuel into motion. This creates patterns of movement, and the material shapes itself with coherent flows by constant consumption of energy. Such continuously driven materials are called “active matter”. The mechanics of cells and tissues can be described by active matter theory, a scientific framework to understand shape, flows, and form of living materials. The active matter theory consists of many challenging mathematical equations. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), and the TU Dresden have now developed an algorithm, implemented in an open-source supercomputer code, that can for the first time solve the equations of active matter theory in realistic scenarios. These solutions bring us a big step closer to solving the century-old riddle of how cells and tissues attain their shape and to designing artificial biological machines.

Biological processes and behaviors are often very complex. Physical theories provide a precise and quantitative framework for understanding them. The active matter theory offers a framework to understand and describe the behavior of active matter – materials composed of individual components capable of converting a chemical fuel (“food”) into mechanical forces. Several scientists from Dresden were key in developing this theory, among others Frank Jülicher, director at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, and Stephan Grill, director at the MPI-CBG. With these principles of physics, the dynamics of active living matter can be described and predicted by mathematical equations. However, these equations are extremely complex and hard to solve. Therefore, scientists require the power of supercomputers to comprehend and analyze living materials. There are different ways to predict the behavior of active matter, with some focusing on the tiny individual particles, others studying active matter at the molecular level, and yet others studying active fluids on a large scale. These studies help scientists see how active matter behaves at different scales in space and over time.

Solving complex mathematical equations
Scientists from the research group of Ivo Sbalzarini, TU Dresden Professor at the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), and Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science at TU Dresden, have now developed a computer algorithm to solve the equations of active matter. Their work was published in the journal “Physics of Fluids” and was featured on the cover. They present an algorithm that can solve the complex equations of active matter in three dimensions and in complex-shaped spaces. “Our approach can handle different shapes in three dimensions over time,” says one of the first authors of the study, Abhinav Singh, a studied mathematician. He continues, “Even when the data points are not regularly distributed, our algorithm employs a novel numerical approach that works seamlessly for complex biologically realistic scenarios to accurately solve the theory's equations. Using our approach, we can finally understand the long-term behavior of active materials in both moving and non-moving scenarios for predicting their dynamics. Further, the theory and simulations could be used to program biological materials or create engines at the nano-scale to extract useful work.” The other first author, Philipp Suhrcke, a graduate of TU Dresden’s Computational Modeling and Simulation M.Sc. program, adds, “thanks to our work, scientists can now, for example, predict the shape of a tissue or when a biological material is going to become unstable or dysregulated, with far-reaching implications in understanding the mechanisms of growth and disease.”

A powerful code for everyone to use
The scientists implemented their software using the open-source library OpenFPM, meaning that it is freely available for others to use. OpenFPM is developed by the Sbalzarini group for democratizing large-scale scientific computing. The authors first developed a custom computer language that allows computational scientists to write supercomputer codes by specifying the equations in mathematical notation and let the computer do the work to create a correct program code. As a result, they do not have to start from scratch every time they write a code, effectively reducing code development times in scientific research from months or years to days or weeks, providing enormous productivity gains. Due to the tremendous computational demands of studying three-dimensional active materials, the new code is scalable on shared and distributed-memory multi-processor parallel supercomputers, thanks to the use of OpenFPM. Although the application is designed to run on powerful supercomputers, it can also run on regular office computers for studying two-dimensional materials.

The Principal Investigator of the study, Ivo Sbalzarini, summarizes: “Ten years of our research went into creating this simulation framework and enhancing the productivity of computational science. This now all comes together in a tool for understanding the three-dimensional behavior of living materials. Open-source, scalable, and capable of handling complex scenarios, our code opens new avenues for modeling active materials. This may finally lead us to understand how cells and tissues attain their shape, addressing the fundamental question of morphogenesis that has puzzled scientist for centuries. But it may also help us design artificial biological machines with minimal numbers of components.”


The computer code that support the findings of this study are openly available in the 3Dactive-hydrodynamics github repository located at

The open source framework OpenFPM is available at

Related Publications for the embedded computer language and the OpenFPM software library:

2023 Scientific News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1354 Mon, 13 Nov 2023 12:07:26 +0100 Mathematician Heather Harrington is new director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics New Dresden Max Planck Institute director develops mathematical approaches to study complex biological systems. Heather Harrington will join the team of directors at the Max Planck Institute (MPI-CBG) in Dresden. In her position, she will also lead the interinstitutional Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD) together with partners from the Technical University Dresden and the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems. She was also appointed as honorary professor at the Faculty of Mathematics at the TU Dresden. Her vision is to create new mathematical approaches to glean additional information about living systems and understand how they self-organize across scales. She is also a Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute at the University of Oxford, UK, and a Fellow of St John’s College Oxford.

“We are thrilled that Heather Harrington decided to join our community as a new director,” says Anne Grapin-Botton, the Managing Director of the MPI-CBG. “We are able to collect a lot of measurements and information on biological systems, and Heather’s mathematical approach will be crucial to extracting structure and meaning from this information. Heather is an extremely talented mathematician who will undoubtedly find new ways to solve current and future challenges in biology, hence our enthusiasm.”

“I am delighted to join the Max Planck Society and to be a director at the MPI-CBG and the CSBD,” says Heather Harrington. “We will be creating new mathematical frameworks to model and analyze the detailed and multi-dimensional data we generated in modern biology. We will develop and apply techniques from nonlinear algebra to analyze complex spatio-temporal systems and from computational topology to study the shape and structure of high-dimensional data. I’m excited to explore new opportunities to collaborate with researchers at the institute and the wider TU Dresden and Saxony research landscape.”

Heather’s group will develop mathematical approaches to understand biological systems on multiple scales, from genes to tissues. Given the abstract nature of mathematics, the methods Heather and her team will develop can be applied to many different systems and contexts. There is huge scope for understanding disease in a new light.

Heather always enjoyed the application of new mathematics to biological and medical questions. She says, “I have combined mathematical models with biological data throughout my career. And it is clear now that there is enormous untapped potential in understanding the shape and structure of biological data. By more formally characterizing the multi-scale and multi-dimensional relationships between different types of data, we can look towards a deeper understanding of organisms across multiple scales.”

Heather A. Harrington received her Ph.D. in 2010 from the Department of Mathematics at Imperial College London. After postdoctoral years at the Imperial College London and the Mathematical Institute at Oxford, she became an associate Professor and Royal Society University Research Fellow at Oxford in 2017, where she was promoted to Professor of Mathematics in 2020. She holds affiliations with St John’s College as a Research Fellow in Mathematics and the Sciences and the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics as an Associate Group Leader. Heather became a director at the MPI-CBG and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden in October 2023. Her research interests are applied algebra, dynamical systems, networks, topological data analysis, and systems biology. Her research group develops mathematical approaches to study problems in the natural and medical sciences. She has received several prestigious awards, such as the Whitehead Prize of the London Mathematical Society in 2018 or the Philip Leverhulme Prize in 2020, for advances in the analysis of noisy data. She was a co-winner of the 2019 Adams Prize from the University of Cambridge.

2023 Institute News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1347 Wed, 04 Oct 2023 14:08:25 +0200 Bertha Condron FeMS Inspiration Award Andrea Schuhmann receives award for female mass spectrometrists Females in Mass Spectrometry (FeMS), a community-led initiative to create a network of support for women in the field of mass spectrometry, awarded this year's Bertha Condron FeMS Inspiration Award to Andrea Schuhmann from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany. Andrea is a technician in the research group of Andrej Shevchenko at the MPI-CBG. The Bertha Condron FeMS Inspiration Award is given to female mass spectrometrists showing great potential for a productive, exciting career. This year, the award was intended to go to an “unsung hero” of mass spectrometry, someone who is working in a support role, for example, as a technician or lab assistant.
Andrea Schuhmann joined the MPI-CBG in 2007 after completing her diploma in biology at the Technical University of Dresden. In a very short time, she mastered the analytical and technical aspects of proteomics. “Andrea excels both in supporting the on-going research and laboratory infrastructure. She has also contributed original proteomics methods that fostered new applications. Her skills and dedication have become critical for both the research and service activities of the laboratory. They also entail a significant innovation component reflected in more than 10 peer-reviewed (one first-authored) publications,” says Andrej Shevchenko.
Besides being a recognized proteomics practitioner, Andrea plays an important role in training graduate students and postdoctoral researchers, as well as maintaining the core technical expertise and social traditions of the laboratory. “I am honored to receive this award as recognition for my work of the past 15 years,” says Andrea, and continues, “In these years, I had the opportunity to work on various projects as a part of a strong team, from method development to the final result. Like this, many biological and analytical questions have been solved, and the successful outcome has been celebrated together as a team.”

Congratulations, Andrea!

Bertha Condron (1911-1988) was born in an era when few opportunities for education and career were afforded to women. Despite hardship, she dedicated decades of her life to charity work and was an inspirational role model to her children and grandchildren. This award is given by her family in Bertha’s name to honor her and the many females in history whose stories inspire the success of future generations.


2023 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1345 Mon, 02 Oct 2023 16:32:16 +0200 Understanding the development and evolution of the mammalian neocortex New book published on neocortical neurogenesis, edited by Wieland Huttner The development of the mammalian brain, including the human brain, is inseparably linked with its evolution. Of particular interest is the development of the neocortex, the evolutionary youngest part of the cerebral cortex and the seat of vital functions such as sensory perception or higher-order cognition. The process of forming new neurons, called neurogenesis, is crucial to the formation and function of the neocortex.

A comprehensive overview of the complex process of neurogenesis in the developing neocortex and its evolutionary consequences is given in a new book edited by Wieland Huttner, Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. It has 33 chapters and discusses cortical progenitor cells and their lineages, neural patterning, cortical folding, variations and malformations of cortical development, as well as the generation of neurons and their migration to their functional positions. One chapter of the book was provided by Wieland Huttner and his research team.

“I am grateful to all the pioneers in the field for their wonderful contributions to this book.”

The book with the title “Neocortical Neurogenesis in Development and Evolution” is published by Wiley and available now.

2023 Institute News
news-1340 Thu, 21 Sep 2023 09:09:54 +0200 New method to insert genes in green alga Chlamydomonas Researchers from Milan and Dresden presents a CRISPR/Cas-based method for genetic editing The gene editing revolution CRISPR/Cas has reached the green alga Chlamydomonas, enabling scientists and biotechnology engineers to make near unlimited changes to the genetic code of one of the most important model organisms used to study and understand a wealth of important processes such as photosynthesis as well as diseases like infertility or polycystic kidney disease.

Scientists from the research group of Gaia Pigino at the Human Technopole together with colleagues at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, have now managed to refine the genetic editing process for Chlamydomonas to introduce new genes with the CRISPR/Cas method and have demonstrated their new process by directly attaching fluorescent proteins to a variety of structures in algal cells.

Chlamydomonas was used early on to understand the genome and the genetic sequence was first determined in 2003. Making genetic changes in this green alga has primarily relied on either mutation induced by UV radiation or forced integration of genetic fragments. Both of these methods are by nature random and therefore hard to control. The CRISPR/Cas technology offers a way to precisely target where new genes are introduced, but to date this revolutionary method has not worked well in Chlamydomonas.

The researchers have found that one of the most important factors to improve the process was the quality of the reagents used, especially the way that the new DNA is prepared before it is introduced into the cells. Lead author Adrian Nievergelt, currently located at the MPI-CBG, elaborates: “The methods we have used previously were not a problem as long as we relied on random integration, which works by a different mechanism, but once we started employing CRISPR/Cas editing the old methods no longer worked and we had to rethink the entire pipeline and build a new one from the best practices used with many other important model organisms like Zebrafish, Nematodes or Organoids.”

In the process of perfecting their technique, the authors of the study took the opportunity to modernise other parts of the genetic engineering work with Chlamydomonas, such as easier ways to make crosses of mutants or determining the presence or absence of genes in a much faster and more robust way than is common practice until now. The collection of improved methods will let scientists around the world perform a wealth of new experiments not previously possible and help make existing work easier, faster and more efficient. Ultimately this work could contribute to understanding human diseases or lead to improvements in biotechnology and agriculture. The authors published their genetic engineering toolbox in the journal Cell Reports Methods.

2023 Scientific News
news-1338 Wed, 20 Sep 2023 10:28:32 +0200 Nanobodies, cell division and cell fate Seniors Academy lecture series winter term 2023/24 at MPI-CBG Wieland Huttner, Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, participated in the Dresden Seniors Academy summer term and gave a lecture on September 14th, 2023, at the German Hygiene Museum (Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden) titled “Human-Specific Genes and Gene Mutations: The Development and Evolution of the Human Brain.”

The Seniors' Academy is aimed at retirees in Dresden and the surrounding area who can enroll and attend lectures and seminars at partnering institutes. Since 2003, the MPI-CBG has been hosting a seminar series called “Microcosm Cell.”

Following the summer term, the MPI-CBG will be part of the Dresden Senior’s Academy's upcoming winter term again. The talks are a perfect chance for our postdocs and predocs to learn the basics of science communication by giving a talk in front of a non-scientific audience.

All lectures will be held in German and take place from 14:30–15:30 pm in the MPI-CBG Auditorium on the dates listed below.

Everybody is welcome!

07 November 2023
Dr. Benedikt Kuhn
Klein, aber fein – Nanobodies aus Kamelen
Small but mighty - nanobodies from camels

30 January 2024
Alison Kickuth
Zellteilung ist mehr als nur Biologie
Cell division is more than just biology

27 February 2024
Sasha Degtyareva
“Sein oder nicht sein?” oder wie Zellen über ihr Schicksal entscheiden
“To be or not to be” or how cells decide their fate

2023 Institute News
news-1336 Wed, 13 Sep 2023 12:18:42 +0200 PhD Spring Selection 2024 Application for the MPI-CBG PhD Program open until October 30, 2023 The PhD program of the MPI-CBG, the International Max Planck Research School for Cell, Developmental, and Systems Biology (IMPRS-CellDevoSys), is accepting applications from prospective PhD students by October 30, 2023 for fully funded PhD positions. Our research groups are looking for enthusiastic and courageous junior scientists to join them for doctoral research. Apply now if you are enthusiastic in conducting research with us and want to be part of our community!

In the first week of December, applicants will be notified if they are asked to Online Admission Committee Interviews. On December 20, 2023, the results of the Online Admission Committee interviews will be communicated. An in-person selection week will be held with the Dresden International Graduate School for Biomedicine and Bioengineering (DIGS-BB) in February 2024.

We look forward to receiving your application!

Link to application portal:

2023 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1334 Thu, 07 Sep 2023 15:09:19 +0200 30 years of the Max Planck Society in Saxony Three weeks of celebrations and events for the public The first Max Planck Institute in Saxony was founded in 1993, the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden. In the subsequent years, five more institutes followed: in 1994 (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, initially as the Max Planck Institute for NeuroPsychological Research), in 1995 (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden), in 1996 (Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences in Leipzig), in 1997 (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig) and in 1998 (Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden).

This is an occasion to celebrate excellent research 'Made in Saxony' and to present it to the public. As part of the Max Planck Society's exhibition "Pioneers of Knowledge" - Nobel Laureates of the Max Planck Society, there will be several joint events of the institutes for the public in September 2023.

On September 4, 2023, Saxon Minister President Michael Kretschmer and Max Planck President Patrick Cramer co-hosted a ceremonial event at the Kulturpalast in Dresden, commemorating the 30-year success story of the Max Planck Society in Leipzig and Dresden. Nobel Laureate Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig talked about his Neanderthal research.

Michael Kretschmer emphasized: “Since its reestablishment in 1990, Saxony has focused specifically on education and science. Smart ideas, international cooperation and research help ensure that our prosperity can grow. That's why I'm incredibly grateful for the outstanding scientific work being done at the institutes under the umbrella of the Max Planck Society here in Saxony. The institutes are among the most renowned research facilities in the world - and are enormously important drivers of innovation. With their work in the field of basic research, they help to strengthen Saxony as a research and science location overall.”

The President of the Max Planck Society, Patrick Cramer, said: “Saxony represents a science-friendly environment. A good education system, seed funds, flexibility. Thank you for all the support!”

Whole program for the 30th Anniversary of the Max Planck Institutes in Saxony.

Anniversary page 30 years of the Max Planck Society in Saxony

2023 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1332 Wed, 06 Sep 2023 09:35:07 +0200 Pressure in the biliary system leads to tissue changes in the liver Dresden researchers link excessive pressure in the bile transport network of the liver to the formation of liver cell rosettes, which are observed in many liver diseases. The liver produces bile, which the intestine uses for digestion. For the transport of bile, the liver relies on a network of microscopic tubings, known as bile canaliculi, formed by liver cells called hepatocytes. When the outflow of bile to the intestine is blocked, it collects in the liver and can lead to serious liver disease. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden together with experts from the Carl Gustav Carus University Hospital (UKD) Dresden and Oslo University Hospital in Norway found that high pressure in the bile canaliculi alters the structure of the liver tissue. They found that elevated pressure leads to the obviation of apical bulkheads, structures known to reinforce the canaliculi. Subsequently, bile canaliculi enlarge into liver cell rosettes that are observed in many liver diseases. This study identifies pressure to be a potential common cause of various liver diseases with biliary obstruction and thus contributes to a better understanding of liver diseases.

The research groups led by Marino Zerial, director at the MPI-CBG, and Jochen Hampe at the UKD, in collaboration with colleagues at the Oslo University Hospital, have found initial evidence that bile stasis leads to excess pressure in the microscopic bile canaliculi. Long-term overpressure could damage liver tissue and, consequently, lead to liver diseases such as primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and primary biliary cholangitis (PBC).

Zooming into the bile cancaliculi using high-resolution microscopy, scientists now understand better what happens in the microcirculatory system of the liver tissue when it's under high pressure. Hepatocytes form transversal connections called “apical bulkheads,” stabilizing the bile canaliculi tubules. But when there's too much pressure from bile, the stabilizing supporting hepatocytes start to break down. This leads to the widening of the tubes and the formation of new structures called “rosettes.”

For decades, physicians have used liver rosettes as a marker in the diagnosis of cholestatic liver disease to detect these disorders. In these structures, abnormal liver cells arrange like rose petals around a small opening. Such rose-like structure can be identified in tissue samples. Why these structures form, however, was unclear up to today.

Thanks to state-of-the-art fluorescence microscopy techniques, the researchers understood that liver cell rosettes are cross-sections of the bile canaliculi suffering excess pressure due to bile stasis. The scientists have thus solved a mystery about the causes of the formation of these structures, which are considered a distinguishing feature of biliary congestion in liver tissue. This suggests a direct link between increased pressure in the bile canaliculi and cholestatic liver disease and improves our understanding of these diseases.

Carlotta Mayer, the first author of the study, explains, “We see liver cell rosettes already in the early stages of PSC in the tissue. Thus, they are potential diagnostic markers of early stages of PSC and other liver diseases.” The research findings suggest that excess pressure in the bile canaliculi may also play a role in other liver diseases, such as hepatitis. This could open new avenues for research into liver diseases.

“This work is an excellent example of the need for interdisciplinary research bridging medicine and cell biology. We now need to focus on the molecular mechanism of liver rosette formation to open new perspectives for treatment of these diseases,” emphasizes the head of the research group, Prof. Marino Zerial.

2023 Scientific News Press Releases
news-1330 Tue, 05 Sep 2023 11:12:02 +0200 Two ERC Starting Grants for MPI-CBG research group leaders Agnes Toth-Petroczy and Alexander von Appen receive funds to launch their own projects. The European Research Council (ERC) has announced the awarding of 400 Starting Grants to young scientists and scholars across Europe. The grants, totaling 628 million euros, support cutting-edge research in a wide range of fields, from medicine and physics to social sciences and the humanities. They will help researchers at the beginning of their careers to launch their own projects, form their teams, and pursue their best ideas.

Two of the ERC starting grant winners are Agnes Toth-Petroczy and Alexander von Appen, both research group leaders at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden. Agnes’ project with the title “Evolution of Biomolecular Condensates” includes a comprehensive research program with both theoretical and experimental approaches to reveal how and when protein condensates emerged during evolution. “Previous research on condensates focused on identifying their components, material properties, and function. In contrast to our precise understanding of membrane-bound compartments, we lack a comprehensive picture of the mechanisms that target proteins into condensates and how condensates emerged during evolution. I hypothesize that localization into condensates is encoded in protein sequences and that functional condensates are under selection pressure and therefore conserved,” says Agnes.

With his project “Mechanisms of nuclear self-assembly,” Alexander von Appen plans to build minimal, synthetic cell nuclei (‘Organelloids’) bottom-up as a tool to study the self-assembly of a functional nucleus. Alexander explains: “The shape and function of the vertebrate cell nucleus depend on the choreographed interplay between lipids, proteins, and DNA. Even small molecular changes can cause detrimental human diseases, including premature aging, cancer, and heart disease. To date, a clear, mechanistically compelling explanation for the dynamic coupling of lipids, proteins, and DNA to safeguard nuclear shape and function is still missing. My team and I aim to define the fundamental principles that govern nuclear biogenesis, with implications for health and disease.”

Congratulations, Agnes and Alexander!

Successful applicants will carry out their projects at universities and research centers in 24 countries in Europe, with 44 nationalities represented. The grants are part of the EU’s Research and Innovation program, Horizon 2020. 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, most creative researchers of any nationality and age to run projects based in Europe.

Press Release of the European Research Council on ERC Starting Grants

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news-1328 Thu, 31 Aug 2023 09:59:13 +0200 A map to study the behavior of early pancreas cells Dresden researchers connect imaging and genetic data to gain insights into the development of the pancreas. Our pancreas has different cells that do important jobs to control our blood sugar. One of the genes in pancreatic cells is called Neurogenin 3 (NEUROG3). Its mutation can lead to Diabetes. It is active only for a short period of time during the development of the pancreas, which is why its behavior and dynamics have remained a mystery, especially in the context of human development. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, and Novo Nordisk Foundation at University of Copenhagen, Denmark, used a special method to watch both the gene's activity and the protein it makes in human pancreas cells to better understand the gene. The researchers developed a methodology that can link the dynamic behaviors of pancreatic cells observed in live imaging movies to all the genes they express. This will contribute to a better understanding of how the hormone-producing cells of the pancreas develop and could pave the way to produce more of these cells for therapeutic purposes, such as the production and transplantation of these cells to patients suffering from diabetes.

The different cells in the pancreas control our blood sugar, such as beta cells that make insulin. Insulin helps lower our blood sugar. If these cells stop working or die, we can get sick with diabetes. When our body is growing, all these special cells come from a single cell type in the pancreas, which is called a pancreatic endocrine progenitor. This cell uses a gene called NEUROG3 for a short time to do its job.

The research group of Anne Grapin-Botton, managing director at the MPI-CBG in Dresden, together with colleagues from the Novo Nordisk Foundation at University of Copenhagen, set out to learn more about these special cells in the pancreas that use the gene NEUROG3 and to see how this gene behaves in single cells.

“We used special tags to see NEUROG3 in these cells and watched how they move using a long-term live imaging method that generated videos,” explains Belin Selcen Beydag-Tasöz, the first author of the study, and continues: “By looking at flat 2D and 3D models of human pancreas growth, we found out that the levels of the NEUROG3 gene were different in different cells. Some cells had a lot of this gene, and some had a little. Surprisingly, despite this heterogeneity, all the cells that had detectable NEUROG3 formed cells producing hormones. Another surprising result was that NEUROG3 works about two times slower in humans than in mice, meaning it takes more time for the gene to do its job in humans compared to mice.”

The researchers used the long-term live imaging method to see a process normally hidden in the mother’s womb. The brightness of the cells helped them combine the gene activity with how the cells were behaving. Using this method, the research team learned that another gene called KLK12 has a role in making cells move to start forming islets of Langerhans when the NEUROG3 gene starts working.

Anne Grapin-Botton, who supervised the study, summarizes: “The cell culture systems we developed to understand how cells in human fetuses form organs are starting to bear fruit. In our study, we've learned a lot more about how certain genes activity during fetal development can lead to diabetes later in life. The results show that when producing endocrine cells for future therapeutic applications based on the transplantation of these cells into diabetic patients, there is some flexibility in the control of NEUROG3.”

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news-1324 Fri, 25 Aug 2023 12:18:43 +0200 Taming the Complexities of Curved Surfaces Novel algorithm enables efficient study of biophysical phenomenon. Biophysical processes occurring on curved surfaces, such as the diffusion of proteins in an organelle's membrane, have always been a significant challenge for computational models. Traditional approaches to such phenomena use flatness assumptions to simplify the modeling and predict the phenomenology. This is primarily done because solving differential-equation models on curved surfaces is challenging and computationally intensive. However, cell parts aren't usually flat; they're curved. To really understand the complexity of spatiotemporal dynamics on curved surfaces, we need accurate computational methods. For example, imagine trying to observe how a membrane protein moves on a bumpy part of a cell from microscopy videos of the fluorescently labeled protein. If we pretend the bumpy part is flat, our answers won't be very accurate. We need to use better methods to capture the role of shape.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Scientific Computing, the research group of Ivo Sbalzarini, TU Dresden Professor at the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), and Dean of the Faculty of Computer Science at TU Dresden, has developed an innovative scalable algorithm that allows biophysical models to accurately respect the curvature and shape of a surface. This simplifies simulating cellular phenomena on curved membranes without trading off accuracy.

The first author of the study, Abhinav Singh, explains: “This new algorithm simplifies the computations by focusing directly on the surface data points themselves, applying calculations in a way that results in a streamlined and more efficient computational process. The results confirm the algorithm's impressive ability to deal with complex, curved surfaces efficiently. We added the new algorithm to the scalable scientific computing platform OpenFPM as open-source software, which makes it available for academics worldwide to use and allows it to run on supercomputers with few lines of code.

Alejandra Foggia, the co-author of the study, comments: “We compared our new method with the conventional ways of considering how surfaces are bumpy or uneven. Our new method is unique and can simulate faster, thus giving us better results. This renders it particularly useful for computational biology, helping us understand the complexities of biological surfaces.”

Ivo Sbalzarini concludes: “The idea behind this algorithm is elegantly simple but highly innovative. It represents a significant step forward in our ability to study complex biological phenomena on curved surfaces. This could pave the way for investigating the coupling between active mechanics and chemical processes on membranes and other biological surfaces.”

2023 Scientific News Frontpage News
news-1322 Mon, 21 Aug 2023 21:17:02 +0200 GSCN 2023 Hilde Mangold Award for Anne Grapin-Botton German Stem Cell Network honors outstanding stem cell researchers Anne Grapin-Botton, Managing Director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), receives the GSCN 2023 Hilde Mangold Award from the German Stem Cell Network. With the GSCN Awards 2023, the German Stem Cell Network recognizes outstanding female stem cell researchers on their way to expand basic research and open new avenues for therapeutic opportunities.

- The GSCN 2023 Young Investigator Award goes to Meike Hohwieler from the Institute of Molecular Oncology and Stem Cell Biology at Ulm University Hospital.

- The GSCN 2023 Hilde Mangold Award goes to Anne Grapin-Botton from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden.

- The GSCN 2023 Publication of the Year Award goes to Ruzhica Bogeska, ...and Michael D. Milsom from the Department of Experimental Hematology, German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and HI-STEM in Heidelberg, for the publication "Inflammatory exposure drives long-lived impairment of hematopoietic stem cell self-renewal activity and accelerated aging" in the journal Cell Stem Cell, Aug. 2022.

Award winner Anne Grapin-Botton and junior scientist Meike Hohwieler both research the pancreas in its healthy and diseased development - this is the only way to understand the developmental biology and disease progression of this complex organ. The publication by Ruzhica Bogeska, on the other hand, describes the previously unexpected effects that inflammation of blood stem cells can have.

Anne Grapin-Botton receives the GSCN 2023 Hilde Mangold Award for her long-standing and significant research on the development of the pancreas in animal models and in human tissue. Currently, the French scientist and her research group at the MPI-CBG are focusing on pancreas development with the overall goals of understanding how pancreatic cells differentiate during embryogenesis, and determining what limits the pancreatic cells’ regeneration in adults. Grapin-Botton investigates the impact of the cellular and organ architecture on the cells’ fate choices and the dynamics of decision processes. Anne Grapin-Botton has a background in developmental biology and initially studied nervous system and endoderm development. The GSCN Hilde Mangold Award recognizes the scientist for her sustained research and achievements as a researcher – who studied the original findings of the scientist Hilde Mangold in German for her doctoral degree in Paris. “She inspired me very much”, says Anne Grapin-Botton about the German scientist, and is exceedingly pleased about the award.

Press Release of the German Stem Cell Network:

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