MPI-CBG News-Feed https://mpi-cbg.de/ Latest News of the MPI-CBG en TYPO3 News Sat, 01 Oct 2022 13:31:45 +0200 Sat, 01 Oct 2022 13:31:45 +0200 TYPO3 EXT:news news-1200 Thu, 22 Sep 2022 15:30:00 +0200 2023 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences for Anthony Hyman and Clifford Brangwynne https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/2023-breakthrough-prize-in-life-sciences-for-anthony-hyman-and-clifford-brangwynne World’s largest science prize for discovering a new mechanism of cellular organization. Anthony Hyman, the managing director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), and Clifford Brangwynne, Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering at Princeton University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, have been honored with one of the three 2023 Breakthrough Prizes in Life Sciences. They receive this award for discovering a fundamental mechanism of cellular organization mediated by phase separation of proteins and RNA into membraneless liquid droplets. The Breakthrough Prize, renowned as the “Oscars of Science,” recognizes the world’s top scientists and groundbreaking discoveries in Life Sciences, Fundamental Physics (one per year) and Mathematics (one per year). Each of the five main prizes is $3 million, and the addition of the early-career awards brings this year’s total prizes to $15.75 million.

Until recently, it was thought that organelles—specialized subunits surrounded by membranes—performed the majority of the work in a cell. But Anthony Hyman and Clifford Brangwynne discovered an entirely new physical principle that concentrates cellular interactions between proteins and other biomolecules in the absence of membranes. They described dynamic liquid-like droplets that form rapidly by phase separation—similar to oil droplets forming in water —producing temporary structures protected from the molecular turmoil of the watery cell interior. Since their discovery, they and others have shown that these membraneless liquid condensates play a role in numerous cellular processes, including cellular signalling, cell division, the nested structure of nucleoli in the cell nucleus, and the regulation of DNA. Their discovery is a fundamental advance in our understanding of cellular organization and is likely to lead to clinical applications in the future, including for neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS.

“Neurodegenerative disease breakthroughs, quantum computing, AI solving protein structure, and more…” said Sergey Brin, “These are incredible advances that deserve to be celebrated.” 

“Congratulations to all of the Breakthrough Prize winners, whose incredible discoveries will pave the way for scientific discovery and spur innovation,” said CZI Co-Founders and Co-CEOs Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg. “These laureates and early-career scientists are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in research and science, and we’re thrilled to honor their accomplishments.”

“The laureates honored today embody the remarkable power of fundamental science,” said Yuri Milner, “both to reveal deep truths about the Universe, and to improve human lives.”

 “The 2023 laureates have produced absolutely stellar science,” said Anne Wojcicki. “The creativity, ingenuity and sheer perseverance that went into this work is awe-inspiring.”

Launched in 2013 by a group of Internet and technology entrepreneurs, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences recognizes “transformative advances toward understanding living systems and extending human life.” A $3-million cash award accompanies the Breakthrough Prize, making it the richest prize in the life sciences. In addition, up to three New Horizons in Physics Prizes, up to three New Horizons in Mathematics Prizes, and up to three Maryam Mirzakhani New Frontiers Prizes are given out to early-career researchers each year. The Breakthrough Prizes were founded by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Yuri and Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. Laureates attend a gala award ceremony designed to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists. The Prizes have been sponsored by the personal foundations established by Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Jack Ma, Yuri and Julia Milner and Anne Wojcicki.

Anthony Hyman, 60, was born in the Israeli city of Haifa. After studying zoology at University College, London, he earned his doctorate at King's College, Cambridge, in 1987 on embryonic cell divisions of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. As a postdoctoral fellow, he went to the University of California, San Francisco. In 1993, Hyman became a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. In 1999, he was one of the founding members of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, which he still heads together with a team of directors. He has been a Fellow of the British Royal Society since 2007, an international member of the American National Academy of Sciences since 2020, and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2021. In 2022, he received the Körber Prize for European Science.

Information on the Breakthrough Prize is available at breakthroughprize.org
Press Release on the 2023 Breakthrough Prize
Press Release of the University of Princeton

 

 

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2022 Institute News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1195 Mon, 19 Sep 2022 14:41:00 +0200 German Stem Cell Network awards the GSCN 2022 Hilde Mangold Award to Meritxell Huch https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/german-stem-cell-network-awards-the-gscn-2022-hilde-mangold-award-to-meritxell-huch The 2022 Awards of the German Stem Cell Network recognize outstanding stem cell researchers. The German Stem Cell Network (GSCN) presented the GSCN Awards 2022 during their annual conference September 13–16. With the GSCN Awards 2022, the German Stem Cell Network recognizes outstanding stem cell researchers on their way to expanding basic research and opening up new avenues for therapeutic options. The three GSCN Awards winners gave a lecture at the Presidential Symposium on September 15 at this year's GSCN Annual Conference.

Meritxell Huch, director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, received the GSCN 2022 Hilde Mangold Award for her pioneering research on organoids from several organs including stomach, liver and pancreas, both from animal models and human tissues. Currently, Meritxell and her research group are developing human organoid models to study the molecular and cellular basis of adult human tissue regeneration. The goal is to understand in detail how human tissue regenerates and how these mechanisms are disrupted in disease. The GSCN Hilde Mangold Award recognizes Meritxell Huch for her pioneering work and sustained outstanding research at the fore front of the organoid field.

The GSCN 2022 Young Investigator Award was awarded to Simon Haas from the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH), the Charité and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in Berlin and the GSCN 2022 Publication of the Year Award went to Adam C. O’Neill, Fatma Uzbas, Giulia Antognolli, Florencia Merino, and Magdalena Götz from Helmholtz Zentrum München and Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU).

Awarded annually, the GSCN Female Scientist Award has now been rebranded as the GSCN Hilde Mangold Award. The new name is in recognition of German embryologist Hilde Mangold (1898 -1924). Mangold performed key experiments which paved the way for the discovery of the embryonic organizer, thereby playing a seminal role in the development of embryology. Her early death in a tragic accident prevented her from being honored together with Hans Spemann when the latter was awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of the organizer effect in 1935. The annual GSCN science prize is bestowed to outstanding female stem cell researchers. In addition to scientific achievement, the jury also aims to recognize the award winner’s lifetime achievement as a role model for young female scientists. As before, women continue to be underrepresented in stem cell research leadership positions at universities and research institutes.

The GSCN has been networking stem cell researchers working in Germany nationally and internationally since 2013 and communicates their results and research to a broad public. The promotion of young scientists and the presentation of outstanding female scientists receive special attention at the GSCN with the GSCN Hilde Mangold Award. Since 2021, the GSCN closely cooperates with the Berlin Institutes of Health (BIH) in the jointly
founded “Dialogue Platform Stem Cell Research.”

Press release of the German Stem Cell Network

GSCN Awardees 2022

 

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2022 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1198 Mon, 19 Sep 2022 09:06:28 +0200 3Rs Prize of the International Society for Transgenic Technologies for Ronald Naumann https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/3rs-prize-of-the-international-society-for-transgenic-technologies-for-ronald-naumann The head of the MPI-CBG transgenic core facility receives the award for a method to reduce the number of experimental animals. The 3Rs Committee of the International Society for Transgenic Technologies (ISTT) announced the winner of the 2022 ISTT 3Rs Prize: Ronald Naumann. He received the award for his abstract titled “Reducing the number of breeding cages and of experimental animals using IVF by accurate prediction of expected germline transmission rate.” Ronald is the head of the Transgenic Core Facility at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany. This prize recognises Ronald’s work in developing a technique (STR-IVF technique) that implements the reduction principle of the 3Rs (refine, reduce, replace) to reduce the number of experimental animals. He developed the technique together with Peter Dobrowolski, an expert in the analysis of genetic fingerprints, working at GVG Genetic Monitoring GmbH in Leipzig.

At this year’s ISTT conference, the prize was awarded to Ronald on September 18th, where he gave a talk about his newly developed technique. Ronald received free 2023 membership, free registration for the TT2023 meeting, and a cash prize of 500 euros, all sponsored by Janvier Labs.

The generation of mutant mouse models for biomedical research still plays a major role in understanding processes in the organism. Mutations are still first integrated into mouse embryonic stem cells (mES-cells). A large number of matings has to be performed in order to firmly establish the mutation of a newly generated mouse line in the first generation. In this way, a large number of offspring have no scientific value. Through collaboration with Peter Dobrowolski, Ronald succeeded in developing a forensic analysis system that detects an exact guarantee of a mutation already in the sperm. Thus, it is predictable that the mutation will be passed down to the following generation. This reduces the need for a substantial number of test animals, as well as time and money.

Ronald Naumann says, “I have been working in research with laboratory animals for over 25 years. Very often we have been able to reduce animal numbers through technical or biotechnical developments in the sense of the 3Rs. The STR-IVF technique now developed will be of great benefit to many laboratories worldwide. It also shows that scientists take the 4th R, “Responsibility”, very seriously and exert positive influence on the development of better systems themselves.”

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2022 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1193 Thu, 15 Sep 2022 10:28:00 +0200 An unstable, flake-like network in the making https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/an-unstable-flake-like-network-in-the-making Dresden research team finds that the cell cortex, a fine network of filaments below the cell membrane, is activated in a controlled way by thousands of short-lived protein condensates. During development, the cells of an embryo divide until a fully functional organism emerges. One component of the cell is especially important during this process: the cell cortex. This fine network of hair-like filament structures (called actin) just below the cell membrane is the main determinant of cell shape and is involved in almost everything a cell does, such as moving, dividing, or sensing its environment. Yet, the cortex must first be built from single molecules, and if it is not built just right, the cells of an organism would never get to the right place to perform their functions. An international team of researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems (MPI-PKS), and the Cluster of Excellence Physics of Life (PoL) at the TU Dresden studied the formation of this dynamic cell cortex in the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans. They found that thousands of dynamic and short-lived droplet-like condensates made up of actin filaments control the generation of a first cortex, at the time when an unfertilized egg cell transitions into an embryo after fertilization. The principles uncovered in this study help to understand how the formation of subcellular structures is controlled.

Right after an egg cell is fertilized, the formation of the cell cortex begins, and it takes about ten minutes until it is fully formed. The cortex consists of actin filaments and motor proteins, which are organized into a dense crosslinked network. The dynamics of the cortex stem from motor proteins pulling on actin filaments, generating stresses that result in cortical tension. This cortical tension drives, for example, the shape of cells, their ability to sense their environment and their ability to perform their functions in our bodies. The dynamics of the cell cortex has been intensely studied in the past, but the mechanism by which the cell cortex is first activated right after fertilization is unknown. It is crucial to understand the principles behind the cell cortex formation since it is involved in almost every function of the cell, and improper cortical organization leads to an impairment of key cellular and developmental processes.

Protein condensates have a short life and ensure proper development.
To investigate how the cell cortex gets activated, an interdisciplinary team of researchers at MPI-CBG, MPI-PKS, and PoL studied this process in the roundworm C. elegans. “We were able to observe how actin and the actin-nucleating proteins WSP-1 and ARP2/3 came together to assemble into condensates that lasted only seconds, just to disassemble right thereafter. These condensates ensure that there is the right amount of actin filaments and that they are connected in just the right way. To me, the beauty of these structures, made of highly branched actin filaments, like a snowflake, lies in what their dynamics teach us about the unconventional chemistry of living matter,” explains Arjun Narayanan, one of the lead authors of the study and researcher in the group of Stephan Grill, director at MPI-CBG. Victoria Tianjing Yan, the other lead author, continues, “We developed our own imaging and image analysis method, called mass balance imaging, to study how the structure of the short-lived condensates grows and evolves.” During their studies, the researchers found that internal chemical reactions control how fast a condensate grows and when it shrinks away. Thus, cortical condensates robustly organize their own life cycle, largely independent of their external environment.

Stephan Grill summarizes, “We conclude that the condensates in the cell cortex represent a new type of biomolecular condensate driven by specific chemical reactions to assemble and disassemble within seconds.” He adds, “We suggest that these short-lived condensates control the activation of the cell cortex and the delicate precision of its growing architecture after fertilization of the C. elegans oocyte. Frank Jülicher, director at MPI-PKS and another supervising author, adds, “This study is yet another example of bridging physics and biology here in Dresden. Our interactive environment with biologists and theoretical physicists together ensures new interdisciplinary approaches to unravel the physics of biological processes.”

 

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news-1191 Tue, 13 Sep 2022 13:14:54 +0200 The gene to which we owe our big brain https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/the-gene-to-which-we-owe-our-big-brain Brain organoids provide insights into the evolution of the human brain ARHGAP11B - this complex name is given to a gene that is found only in humans and plays an essential role in the enlargement of the developing neocortex. The neocortex is the part of the brain to which we owe our high mental abilities. The importance of ARHGAP11B in neocortex development during human evolution has been investigated by a team of researchers from the German Primate Center (DPZ) - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the Hector Institute for Translational Brain Research (HITBR) in Mannheim. To do this, the research team introduced ARHGAP11B, and thus for the first time a gene that exists only in humans, into laboratory-grown brain organoids of our closest living relatives, chimpanzees. In the chimpanzee brain organoid, the ARHGAP11B gene led to an increase in brain stem cells relevant for brain growth and to an increase in those neurons that play a crucial role in the extraordinary mental abilities of humans. In contrast, when either the ARHGAP11B gene was knocked out in human brain organoids or the function of the ARHGAP11B protein was inhibited in them, the amount of these brain stem cells decreased to the level of a chimpanzee. Thus, the research team was able to show that the ARGHAP11B gene played a crucial role in the evolution of the brain from our ancestors to modern humans (EMBO reports).

Animal studies on great apes have long been banned in Europe for ethical reasons. An alternative are so-called organoids, i.e. three-dimensional cell structures a few millimeters in size that are grown in the laboratory. These organoids can be produced from so-called pluripotent stem cells, which then differentiate into specific cell types, such as nerve cells. In this way, the research team was able to produce both chimpanzee brain organoids and human brain organoids. "These brain organoids allowed us to investigate a central question concerning ARHGAP11B" says Wieland Huttner of the MPI-CBG, one of the three lead authors of the study. "In a previous study together with Michael Heide, we were able to show that ARHGAP11B can enlarge a primate brain. However, it was previously unclear whether ARHGAP11B had a major or minor role in the evolutionary enlargement of the human neocortex. "To clarify this, the ARGHAP11B gene was either introduced into brain ventricle-like structures of chimpanzee organoids, or it was knocked out in human brain organoids, or the function of the ARHGAP11B protein was blocked by a related inhibitory protein. Would the ARGHAP11B gene lead to the proliferation of those brain stem cells in the chimpanzee brain that are necessary for the enlargement of the neocortex? "Our study shows that the gene in chimpanzee organoids causes an increase in relevant brain stem cells and an increase in those neurons that play a crucial role in the extraordinary mental abilities of humans," says Michael Heide, the study's lead author, who is head of the Junior Research Group Brain Development and Evolution at the DPZ, in collaboration with the MPI-CBG. When the ARGHAP11B gene was knocked out in human brain organoids or the function of the ARHGAP11B protein was inhibited, the amount of these brain stem cells decreased to the level of a chimpanzee. "We were thus able to show that ARHGAP11B plays a crucial role in neocortex development during human evolution," says Michael Heide. Adds Julia Ladewig of HITBR, the third of the lead authors: "Given this important role of ARHGAP11B, it is furthermore conceivable that certain maldevelopments of the neocortex may be caused by mutations in this gene."

Press Release of the German Primate Center

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2022 Scientific News
news-1181 Thu, 08 Sep 2022 20:00:00 +0200 Modern humans generate more brain neurons than Neandertals https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/modern-humans-generate-more-brain-neurons-than-neandertals Researchers from Dresden uncover a greater neuron production in the frontal lobe during brain development in modern humans than Neandertals, due to the change of a single amino acid in the protein TKTL1. The question of what makes modern humans unique has long been a driving force for researchers. Comparisons with our closest relatives, the Neandertals, therefore provide fascinating insights. The increase in brain size, and in neuron production during brain development, are considered to be major factors for the increased cognitive abilities that occurred during human evolution. However, while both Neandertals and modern humans develop brains of similar size, very little is known about whether modern human and Neandertal brains may have differed in terms of their neuron production during development. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden now show that the modern human variant of the protein TKTL1, which differs by only a single amino acid from the Neandertal variant, increases one type of brain progenitor cells, called basal radial glia, in the modern human brain. Basal radial glial cells generate the majority of the neurons in the developing neocortex, a part of the brain that is crucial for many cognitive abilities. As TKTL1 activity is particularly high in the frontal lobe of the fetal human brain, the researchers conclude that this single human-specific amino acid substitution in TKTL1 underlies a greater neuron production in the developing frontal lobe of the neocortex in modern humans than Neandertals.

Only a small number of proteins have differences in the sequence of their amino acids – the building blocks of proteins – between modern humans and our extinct relatives, the Neandertals and Denisovans. The biological significance of these differences for the development of the modern human brain is largely unknown. In fact, both, modern humans and Neandertals, feature a brain, and notably a neocortex, of similar size, but whether this similar neocortex size implies a similar number of neurons remains unclear. The latest study of the research group of Wieland Huttner, one of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, carried out in collaboration with Svante Pääbo, director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, and Pauline Wimberger of the University Hospital Dresden and their colleagues, addresses just this question. The researchers focus on one of these proteins that presents a single amino acid change in essentially all modern humans compared to Neandertals, the protein transketolase-like 1 (TKTL1). Specifically, in modern humans TKTL1 contains an arginine at the sequence position in question, whereas in Neandertal TKTL1 it is the related amino acid lysine. In the fetal human neocortex, TKTL1 is found in neocortical progenitor cells, the cells from which all cortical neurons derive. Notably, the level of TKTL1 is highest in the progenitor cells of the frontal lobe.

Modern human TKTL1, but not Neandertal TKTL1, leads to more neurons in embryonic mouse neocortex
Anneline Pinson, the lead author of the study and researcher in the group of Wieland Huttner, set out to investigate the significance of this one amino acid change for neocortex development. Anneline and her colleagues introduced either the modern human or the Neandertal variant of TKTL1 into the neocortex of mouse embryos. They observed that basal radial glial cells, the type of neocortical progenitors thought to be the driving force for a bigger brain, increased with the modern human variant of TKTL1 but not with the Neandertal variant. As a consequence, the brains of mouse embryos with the modern human TKTL1 contained more neurons.

More neurons in the frontal lobe of modern humans
After this, the researchers explored the relevance of these effects for human brain development. To this end, they replaced the arginine in modern human TKTL1 with the lysine characteristic of Neandertal TKTL1, using human brain organoids – miniature organ-like structures that can be grown from human stem cells in cell culture dishes in the lab and that mimic aspects of early human brain development. “We found that with the Neandertal-type of amino acid in TKTL1, fewer basal radial glial cells were produced than with the modern human-type and, as a consequence, also fewer neurons,” says Anneline Pinson. “This shows us that even though we do not know how many neurons the Neandertal brain had, we can assume that modern humans have more neurons in the frontal lobe of the brain, where TKTL1 activity is highest, than Neandertals." The researchers also found that modern human TKTL1 acts through changes in metabolism, specifically a stimulation of the pentose phosphate pathway followed by increased fatty acid synthesis. In this way, modern human TKTL1 is thought to increase the synthesis of certain membrane lipids needed to generate the long process of basal radial glial cells that stimulates their proliferation and, therefore, to increase neuron production.

“This study implies that the production of neurons in the neocortex during fetal development is greater in modern humans than it was in Neandertals, in particular in the frontal lobe,” summarizes Wieland Huttner, who supervised the study. "It is tempting to speculate that this promoted modern human cognitive abilities associated with the frontal lobe."

Huttner & Pinson

Prof. Wieland Huttner (right) and Dr. Anneline Pinson (left) in the lab. Photo: MPI-CBG

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2022 Scientific News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1186 Fri, 02 Sep 2022 13:42:12 +0200 Award Ceremony of the Körber Prize for Anthony Hyman https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/award-ceremony-of-the-koerber-prize-for-anthony-hyman The director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden received the Körber Prize in Hamburg's City Hall for the discovery of a completely new state of biological matter. Anthony Hyman has been awarded the Körber Prize for European Science, endowed with one million euros, for his work on research into cell droplets. Martin Stratmann, President of the Max Planck Society, and Lothar Dittmer and Tatjana König from the Executive Board of the Körber Foundation presented the official certificate at a ceremony in the Great Ceremonial Hall of Hamburg City Hall. The Körber Prize, which is endowed with one million, is one of the world's most highly endowed research prizes. In 2009, Hyman and his team discovered – during studies on single-cell embryos of a roundworm – a completely new state of biological matter: proteins can accumulate locally in high concentrations in the cell fluid.

These “condensates” resemble tiny drops, which are subject to the laws of biophysics, amongst other things. Unlike other cell organelles, condensates are not surrounded by a membrane. The very high protein concentration inside them stimulates biochemical reactions that would not be possible outside. Condensates form dynamically, sometimes in a matter of seconds, and are usually also rapidly degraded. When degradation is disrupted -–often due to aging – toxic substances can be deposited in affected cells, triggering degenerative diseases such as ALS or Alzheimer's disease. Hyman is now looking for new drugs that could cure these diseases.

Peter Tschentscher, First Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg, says, “The Körber Prize for European Science has an outstanding international reputation and is one of the most highly endowed science prizes in the world. This year it will be awarded to Professor Anthony Hyman, a scientist who researches at the interface between biology and medicine in Hamburg's partner city Dresden. His scientific work can help to understand the causes of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and to develop effective treatment options for these diseases.”

 “This year's Körber Prize succeeds in providing a fascinating insight into our most valuable asset ¬– our health. How we can best maintain our health is one of the great challenges facing society, and science has a crucial key role to play in solving it,” said Katharina Fegebank, Hamburg Senator for Science, Research, Equality and Districts. Anthony Hyman's pioneering work in the field of cell biology is one of these scientific impulses that significantly changes entire fields of research and creates new paths. His work impressively demonstrates that research with a spirit of inquiry and interdisciplinary exchange can open up previously unthinkable possibilities.

Anthony Hyman expressed his delight at the prestigious award, saying, “Neurodegeneration remains one of the greatest challenges in human health. Much of the work from my laboratory is focused on using physical chemistry concepts to understand how cellular processes fail in disease. It's a great honor and a real pleasure to be awarded the Körber Prize 2022 to further support these directions.”

The awardee
Anthony Hyman, 60, was born in the Israeli city of Haifa. After studying zoology at University College, London, he earned his doctorate at King's College Cambridge in 1987 on embryonic cell divisions of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. As a postdoctoral fellow, he went to the University of California in San Francisco. In 1993, Hyman became a group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. In 1999, he was one of the founding members of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, which he still heads together with a team of directors. He has been a Fellow of the British Royal Society since 2007, an international member of the American National Academy of Sciences since 2020, and a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2021.

The Körber European Science Prize has honored outstanding scientists and scholars working in Europe for their forward-looking research work every year since 1985. Following the award of the Körber Prize, seven laureates have already received the Nobel Prize.

Portrait of Anthony Hyman and his research on the website of the Körber Foundation
Press release on the announcement of the Körber Prize on June 30, 2022

 

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2022 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1179 Fri, 05 Aug 2022 16:36:19 +0200 Max Planck Society 2021 Yearbook Highlights https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/max-planck-society-2021-yearbook-highlights Research of MPI-CBG director Meritxell Huch featured in the Yearbook Highlights Each year, the Max Planck Society submits a scientific research report in the form of a yearbook to give an account of the scientific research performed at its institutes to the public and its funding providers. The central questions addressed are: where do we stand, and where do we want to go? The Max Planck Institutes are asked to select a work or project from their scientific activities that is suitable for presentation in the yearbook. The yearbook contributions of all Max Planck Institutes are published on the website.

For a printed collection, 15 articles were selected and edited in a journalistic manner, which seemed particularly suited for publication from a science communication perspective and especially interesting for non-experts. MPI-CBG director Meritxell Huch is featured in this printed 2021 Yearbook Highlights collection with her research on liver organoids, published in Cell Stem Cell. Her chapter “Contacts in the liver” is highlight number 10 on page 28.

The highlights of the 2021 Yearbook shine a spotlight, amongst others, on the extent to which computer technologies have found their way into research; swarming phagocytes; contacts in the liver; virtual fusion plants; and the surprising history of our oral bacteria – just to name a few.

2021 Yearbook Highlights
MPI-CBG press release on the study in Cell Stem Cell

 

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2022 Institute News
news-1177 Thu, 04 Aug 2022 13:41:37 +0200 Derailing molecular cargo trains in cilia makes them turn around https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/derailing-molecular-cargo-trains-in-cilia-makes-them-turn-around Researchers at the Human Technopole in Milan, Itlay and the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany show how molecular cargo trains change direction in cellular micro-antennas. Cilia are antenna-like structures that protrude outwards from the surface of eukaryotic cells. Misassembled cilia in humans can cause numerous diseases from infertility to lung malfunction. The assembly and maintenance of cilia requires a bidirectional transport machinery known as Intraflagellar Transport (IFT), which moves in train-like structures along the microtubular skeleton of the cilium. IFT trains move from the cell to the ciliary tip to deliver cargoes that maintain the assembly of the cilium. They then turn around and return to the cell at high speed. Because of this, it has long been assumed that a special molecular machinery at the ciliary tip is necessary for the trains to turnaround. The research group of Gaia Pigino, now at the Human Technopole Structural Biology Research Centre in Milan, and formerly at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) has now shown that the ability to turn around is an intrinsic property of IFT trains that can happen all along the cilium without any dedicated stationary tip machinery being required. These findings have been published in the journal Current Biology.

Cells need to be able to sense different types of signals, such as chemical and mechanical signals, from the environment to properly function. Most eukaryotic cells perform these functions through a specialised hair-like organelle, the cilium, that extends from the cell body as a sort of antenna. We smell through olfactory sensory cilia in our nose, we see through the photoreceptor cilia in our eyes and we hear thanks to kinocilia in our ears. Other cilia move in a beating fashion that for example allow us to breathe by keeping the lungs clean, or they allow us to reproduce by propelling sperm cells, and even to properly reason, because they contribute to the flow of fluids in the brain. Not surprisingly, defects in the assembly and function of these tiny organelles result in serious diseases, which are collectively known as ciliopathies. Thus, proper function of cilia is fundamental for human health.

A method to interfere with IFT trains
A bidirectional molecular transport system known as intraflagellar transport (IFT) is required for the proper assembly and function of cilia. IFT trains are propelled from the cell to the ciliary tip (anterograde direction) by kinesin-II motor proteins, where they unload the cargo needed for the assembly of the cilium before turning around and moving back to the cell (retrograde direction) driven by dynein motor proteins. The mechanism that coordinates the disassembly and reassembly of the IFT trains, which allows them to turn around, is unknown. It is commonly assumed that large protein complexes observed at the ciliary tip are responsible for this conversion of the IFT trains. Adrian Nievergelt, a postdoctoral researcher in the Pigino group, who is located at the MPI-CBG, jointly with Ludek Stepaneck, a former postdoc in the same team, have now developed a method to mechanically manipulate and stall IFT trains inside the cilia of the green alga Chlamydomonas at defined positions along the cilium. By observing the behaviour of these trains in a fluorescence microscope, they showed that such trains can readily change direction even at distance from the ciliary tip.

The researchers noticed that the IFT trains which convert and turn around at the tip do so slightly faster than when they get artificially stalled at any other spot. This brought up the question: is there a mechanistic difference between the two situations? In search of an answer, the group turned to cryo electron microscopy, a Nobel prize winning technology that uses high energy electrons to capture greatly magnified images of biological structures and reconstruct three dimensional tomographic representations at atomic resolution. These reconstructions of the cilia are noisy and hard for human eyes to interpret. Tim-Oliver Buchholz, a former member of the group of Florian Jug, now at the Human Technopole Computational Biology Research Centre and formerly located at MPI-CBG and the Center for Systems Biology Dresden (CSBD), applied his method cryo-CARE, a specifically trained neural network, to remove noise from the cryo-tomographic data. In one of the reconstructions, the scientists observed an exciting rare event of an IFT train in the process of walking off its rail at the flagellar tip. Adrian Nievergelt elaborates: “It was a revealing experience: once the noise was removed from the tomographic data, we could easily see how the very regularly structured IFT train falls apart and dissolves right after it passes the end of the microtubule it was running on.”

“It is striking how we can never observe an IFT train that changes direction twice. An explanation for this in Chlamydomonas is that the kinesin motors are no longer present on retrograde trains.” elaborates Gaia Pigino and concludes: “This discovery is an important step to solving the molecular mechanisms of how IFT trains convert in the cilium.”

Article in Italian; Human Technopole website

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2022 Scientific News
news-1175 Mon, 01 Aug 2022 15:56:40 +0200 Fertility and temperature change https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/fertility-and-temperature-change Dresden and Tübingen researchers show that roundworms adapted their fertility to different temperatures during evolution. Changes in temperatures can be stressful for organisms. Because of climate change, populations of organisms have to cope with temperature changes meaning they might have to adapt to higher temperatures. Ectothermic species, which rely primarily on outside heat sources like sunshine to maintain their ideal body temperature, are particularly affected by this. Therefore, it is critical to comprehend whether ectotherms have evolved to adapt to environmental temperature as well as the evolutionary processes involved.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany and from the Max Planck Institute for Biology in Tübingen, Germany have studied the roundworm (nematode) Pristionchus pacificus to investigate their adaptation on the island of La Réunion in the Indian Ocean with a range of temperatures from coast to summit. “My colleagues from the lab of Ralf Sommer from the MPI in Tübingen and I gathered nematodes on the island from several locations with various temperatures. Throughout our research, we discovered that Pristionchus pacificus from warmer coastal regions have higher fertility at warmer temperatures.  In contrast, Pristionchus pacificus from colder mountain regions have higher fertility at cooler temperatures,” explains Mark Leaver, the first author of the study, published in the journal Evolution. He continues, “This is the first study that systematically examined hundreds of these roundworm strains to measure fertility.” In order to illustrate the evolutionary relationships between the various strains of Pristionchus pacificus, the researchers also created a phylogenetic tree, a type of branching diagram that shows how closely the strains are related.

This study demonstrates how the nematode Pristionchus pacificus evolved to adapt to temperature changes, however it is currently unknown whether the populations on La Réunion can quickly enough adapt to ongoing climate change to live in their current geographic distribution. According to Mark Leaver, the study's findings “give useful information for models that could predict if this is the case, but further work is needed to find out.”

Photograph of Cirque de Cilaos on La Réunion habitat of Pristionchus pacificus and location of the study. Photo: Mark Leaver

Photograph of Cirque de Cilaos on La Réunion habitat of Pristionchus pacificus and location of the study. Photo: Mark Leaver

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2022 Scientific News Frontpage News
news-1173 Fri, 29 Jul 2022 20:00:00 +0200 Taking your time makes a difference – Brain development differs between Neanderthals and modern humans https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/taking-your-time-makes-a-difference-brain-development-differs-between-neanderthals-and-modern-humans Dresden and Leipzig researchers find that stem cells in the developing brain of modern humans take longer to divide and make fewer errors when distributing their chromosomes to their daughter cells, compared to those of Neanderthals. Neanderthals are the closest relatives to modern humans. Comparisons with them can therefore provide fascinating insights into what makes present-day humans unique, for example regarding the development of the brain. The neocortex, the largest part of the outer layer of the brain, is unique to mammals and crucial for many cognitive capacities. It expanded dramatically during human evolution in species ancestral to both Neanderthals and modern humans, resulting that both Neanderthals and modern humans having brains of similar sizes. However, almost nothing is known about how modern human and Neanderthal brains may have differed in terms of their development and function. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) in Leipzig have now discovered that neural stem cells – the cells from which neurons in the developing neocortex derive – spend more time preparing their chromosomes for division in modern humans than in Neanderthals. This results in fewer errors when chromosomes are distributed to the daughter cells in modern humans than in Neanderthals or chimpanzees, and could have consequences for how the brain develops and functions. This study shows cellular differences in the development of the brain between modern humans and Neanderthals.

After the ancestors of modern humans split from those of Neanderthals and Denisovans, their Asian relatives, about one hundred amino acids, the building blocks of proteins in cells and tissues, changed in modern humans and spread to almost all modern humans. The biological significance of these changes is largely unknown. However, six of those amino acid changes occurred in three proteins that play key roles in the distribution of chromosomes, the carriers of genetic information, to the two daughter cells during cell division.

The effects of the modern human variants on brain development
To investigate the significance of these six changes for neocortex development, the scientists first introduced the modern human variants in mice. Mice are identical to Neanderthals at those six amino acid positions, so these changes made them a model for the developing modern human brain. Felipe Mora-Bermúdez, the lead author of the study, describes the discovery: “We found that three modern human amino acids in two of the proteins cause a longer metaphase, a phase where chromosomes are prepared for cell division, and this results in fewer errors when the chromosomes are distributed to the daughter cells of the neural stem cells, just like in modern humans.” To check if the Neanderthal set of amino acids have the opposite effect, the researchers then introduced the ancestral amino acids in human brain organoids – miniature organ-like structures that can be grown from human stem cells in cell culture dishes in the lab and that mimic aspects of early human brain development. “In this case, metaphase became shorter and we found more chromosome distribution errors.” According to Mora-Bermúdez, this shows that those three modern human amino acid changes in the proteins known as KIF18a and KNL1 are responsible for the fewer chromosome distribution mistakes seen in modern humans as compared to Neanderthal models and chimpanzees. He adds that “having mistakes in the number of chromosomes is usually not a good idea for cells, as can be seen in disorders like trisomies and cancer.”

“Our study implies that some aspects of modern human brain evolution and function may be independent of brain size since Neanderthals and modern humans have similar-sized brains. The findings also suggest that brain function in Neanderthals may have been more affected by chromosome errors than that of modern humans,” summarizes Wieland Huttner, who co-supervised the study. Svante Pääbo, who also co-supervised the study, adds that “future studies are needed to investigate whether the decreased error rate affects modern human traits related to brain function.”

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2022 Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1171 Tue, 26 Jul 2022 15:05:26 +0200 Heineman Project Grant for MPI-CBG and Weizmann Institute of Science cooperation https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/heineman-project-grant-for-mpi-cbg-and-weizmann-institute-of-science-cooperation The Heineman Stiftung funds two projects to further strenghten the German-Israeli scientific cooperation The Minna-James-Heineman-Stiftung awarded two prestigious Heineman Grants to four outstanding young scientists from the Max Planck Society and the Weizmann Institute of Science. One of the funded projects is awarded to Alexander von Appen, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany and to Ori Avinoam, research group leader at the Department of Biomolecular Sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel. The two scientists received the grant for their project “The role of membraneless condensates in membrane fusion.” In the next three years, they want to investigate how protein phase separation mechanistically drives membrane fusion pore formation during cellular secretion. The collaboration will facilitate the understanding of this important process on both the molecular level and in the living organism.

The second funded project with the title “How protein synthesis wires the brain – from circuits to single cells” was awarded to Matthew Kraushar from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, Berlin, Germany and to Yonatan Stelzer from the Department of Molecular Cell Biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science. Until 2025, the two Heineman Grants will fund those two research projects, one of which will be carried out by a German Principal Investigator together with an Israeli collaborator (project by Matthew Kraushar and Yonatan Stelzer) and the other by an Israeli Principal Investigator and a German collaborator (project by Ori Avinoam and Alexander von Appen).

About the Heineman Grant
The Minna-James-Heineman-Stiftung allocates every three to four years two research grants to young, highly qualified and talented scientists in the areas of biology, medicine and biomedical research at Max Planck Institutes and the Weizmann Institute of Science. The grants are devoted to strengthening German-Israeli cooperation in general and specifically between Max Planck Institutes and the Weizmann Institute of Science in scientifically promising and innovative research areas which are geared towards the future. The programme is managed by the Minerva Stiftung.

 

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2022 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1166 Wed, 06 Jul 2022 16:29:44 +0200 Two MPI-CBG postdocs attended 71st Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/two-mpi-cbg-postdocs-attend-71st-lindau-nobel-laureate-meeting Around 30 Nobel Laureates and almost 500 young scientists in Lindau Melissa Rinaldin and Karina Pombo-García, both postdocs at MPI-CBG, were invited to the first on-site Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting since 2019. From June 26 to July 1, around 500 young scientists from 90 different nations gathered in Lindau to represent the global world of science. Due to the pandemic, many of the young scientists had to wait more than two years until they will finally enter the Lindau Inselhalle.

“With the 71 st edition, we are once more offering the next generation of top international researchers a unique opportunity here at Lake Constance: to benefit first-hand from the life experience of many Nobel Laureates and at the same time to expand their worldwide network for their own future,” said Countess Bettina Bernadotte af Wisborg as President of the Council at the opening of the meeting.

“We were very honoured to participate in the meeting on the beautiful island of Lindau. It was a unique opportunity to meet Nobel Laureates from different fields and experiences. What we enjoyed the most was getting to know many outstanding and inspiring young scientists from all over the world and discussing with them the joy, problems, and future of Science,” report Melissa and Karina on their experiences.

Since their foundation in 1951, the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings have developed into a unique international scientific forum. The annual Meetings provide an opportunity for an exchange between different generations, cultures and disciplines. Once every year, around 30-40 Nobel Laureates convene in Lindau to meet the next generation of leading scientists: 600 undergraduates, PhD students, and post-doc researchers from all over the world. The theme of the Lindau Meetings alternates between the three Nobel Prize scientific disciplines, Physics, Chemistry or Physiology and Medicine. Every five years an interdisciplinary Meeting takes place, while the Lindau Meeting on Economic Sciences is held every three years.

Press Release of Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings
 

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2022 Institute News
news-1162 Wed, 06 Jul 2022 13:49:00 +0200 Protein friends https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/protein-friends Clusters of proteins can form in solutions with concentrations that are well below the threshold for phase separation and the formation of biomolecular condensates. Every cell contains millions of protein molecules. Some of them have the ability to phase separate to form non-membrane-bound compartments inside the cell, known as biomolecular condensates. The research group of Anthony Hyman, director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden, Germany, discovered that these condensates are widespread in biology and that they are relevant to diverse cellular functions. It has been assumed so far that below threshold concentration of phase separation protein remains soluble in solution.
 
In a current study from the research labs of Anthony Hyman (MPI-CBG) and Rohit Pappu at Washington University in St. Louis, USA, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Cambridge, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, and Technische Universität Dresden in the journal PNAS, researchers uncovered surprising results in the behavior of key proteins in solutions with ultralow concentrations of phase separating proteins. “In living cells, concentrations of phase-separating proteins are often lower than the measured threshold concentrations required to form condensates. The inference to date has been that these so-called subsaturated or under-saturated solutions feature proteins dispersed as unassembled entities. However, our experiments tell us otherwise. We find, rather surprisingly, that subsaturated solutions include a diverse spectrum of species that we refer to as clusters,” says Mrityunjoy Kar, a researcher in the Hyman lab and lead author of the study, and continues: “The clusters are not biomolecular condensates delineated by a phase boundary.” Furqan Dar, the PhD student in the Pappu lab, adds: “The process of cluster formation, anticipated by theories and computations based on the physics of associative polymers, involves the continuous evolution of cluster sizes and distributions with increasing concentration.”
 
The function of these protein clusters is still unknown and will be the subject of future studies. “Our findings highlight the totality of species that can form by proteins that are drivers of phase separation. Clearly, the next steps require that we determine the functions of clusters in subsaturated solutions because these concentrations at which they form are relevant in live cells,” says Rohit Pappu. “Knowing that such clusters exist opens the door to assessing their functional relevance,” concludes Anthony Hyman.

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2022 Scientific News Frontpage News
news-1164 Tue, 05 Jul 2022 09:55:33 +0200 Meritxell Huch appointed as new director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/meritxell-huch-appointed-as-new-director-at-the-max-planck-institute-of-molecular-cell-biology-and-genetics Spanish scientist investigates liver development, regeneration and disease. Meritxell Huch joins the team of directors at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden. She is one of the first recipients of the Lise Meitner Excellence Program from the Max Planck Society, aimed at rising scientific stars in a research field. With her recruitment, the institute expands its expertise in stem cell biology and organoid research. Organoid models – miniature organs grown in a dish in the lab ¬– for mammalian tissues like stomach, liver and pancreas were pioneered by Meritxell Huch when she was a trainee in the Netherlands and later on in her own lab at the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge. She and her group further develop organoid models from human tissues to study molecular and cellular principles of adult human tissue regeneration with the final goal of gaining fundamental understanding of how human tissues regenerate and how these mechanisms are dysfunctional in disease.
 
“We could not be happier about Meritxell Huch joining our Board of Directors,” says Anthony Hyman, currently Managing Director of the MPI-CBG. “She came to us in 2019 as one of the first participants in the Lise Meitner Excellence Program from the Max Planck Society.  Meri is a world leader in organoid models and tissue regeneration, and my colleagues and I are excited to work with Meri on our institute’s mission to understand how cells form tissues.

Between 2010 and 2013, Meritxell Huch together with Hans Clevers from the Hubrecht Institute in the Netherlands, developed the first stomach, liver and pancreas organoids ¬– miniature tissues generated from mouse stomach, liver and pancreas cells in a dish. In 2015, she and her colleagues successfully transferred the liver organoid technology to grow human liver in a dish from human liver biopsies, and in 2017 they developed a similar system from human liver tumour samples from individuals with liver cancer.

To gain the knowledge necessary to further develop organoid cultures, Meritxell Huch and her team specifically look into the principles that control cell proliferation and differentiation in adult organs and tissues. She and her team investigate the biological mechanisms that regulate homeostasis (the capacity of an organism to maintain the internal environment of the body within limits that allow it to survive), repair, and deregulation in disease in adult tissue, using the liver as a model of extensive regenerative capacity and the pancreas, as a model with little regeneration potential.

“I am delighted to be the first Lise Meitner Max Planck research group leader to be appointed Max Planck director. I received one of the first Lise Meitner Excellence Program awards from the Max Planck Society, which enabled my recruitment from the Gurdon Institute, University of Cambridge, to here, the Max Planck of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in 2019. This institute is world-renowned for its excellent science at the interface between cell biology, genetics and biophysics. It is an incredible place to be now, in this new era of human in vitro model systems like organoids, as we have the unprecedented opportunity to start uncovering novel molecular and cellular principles of human biology and disease. I am very excited to become part of it,” says Meritxell Huch and continues, “I am looking forward to working with the extraordinary talented researchers and incredible staff here in Dresden and to exciting and vivid interactions within the institute and the Dresden research campus.”

Meritxell Huch was born on January 15, 1978 in Barcelona and studied Pharmaceutical Science at the University of Barcelona. She obtained her PhD at the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain in 2007 and moved to the Netherlands for her postdoc at the Hubrecht Institute. She started her own lab in February 2014 as a junior group leader at the Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge. In 2019, Meritxell Huch was awarded the first Lise Meitner excellence program award from the Max Planck Society and moved her lab to the MPI-CBG. She was appointed a director at the MPI-CBG in May 2022. She has received several awards, including the Women in Cell Science Prize from the British Society, the Hamdan Award for medical excellence, the EMBO Young Investigator Award, and the BINDER Prize.

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2022 Institute News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1160 Sat, 02 Jul 2022 11:31:00 +0200 Remembering Suzanne https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/remembering-suzanne A brilliant scientist will be forever with us We are remembering professor Suzanne Eaton today, whose life came to a tragic end on July 2, 2019. Suzanne was an exceptional and inspiring scientist, a loving spouse and mother, as well as a truly wonderful person beloved to us all. She developed new and groundbreaking approaches to understanding how cells communicate with each other to form tissue. Suzanne's team was able to explain how chemical signals are spread over long distances in tissues and how they interact with physical forces to regulate tissue development.

In 2020, we created a memorial garden by the institute in memory of Suzanne. With the desire of many to honour Suzanne as a scientist, mentor, and friend, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) established a fund in her memory. These funds can now be invested in science, in Suzanne’s honour. The EMBO New Venture Fellowship helps scientists explore topics outside their current area to allow them to pursue a new research direction in their future work.  

Suzanne will be forever with us through her brilliant scientific ideas and findings that will be further investigated by her colleagues in the future.

List publications (Google Scholar)

Website 'Remembering Suzanne'

 

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2022 Institute News Frontpage News
news-1158 Thu, 30 Jun 2022 09:27:56 +0200 Körber European Science Prize 2022 for Anthony Hyman https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/koerber-european-science-prize-2022-for-anthony-hyman The director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden receives the award for the discovery of condensates - cell droplets without a membrane, a new hope for the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases. The Körber European Science Prize 2022, endowed with one million euros, is awarded to the British cell biologist Anthony Hyman, director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. In 2009, Hyman and his team – during studies on single-cell embryos of a threadworm – discovered a completely new state of biological matter: proteins can accumulate locally in high concentrations in the cell fluid. These "condensates" resemble tiny drops. They form dynamically, sometimes in a matter of seconds, and are usually also quickly broken down again. In the degradation is disturbed – often due to age – toxic substances can be deposited in affected cells, triggering degenerative diseases such as ALS or Alzheimer's disease. Hyman is now looking for new drugs that could cure these diseases.

In healthy human cells, condensates are formed when, for example, they are exposed to stress – such as poisoning, radiation or heat: Stress granules then shut down the activity of the cell in a kind of lockdown strategy to prevent permanent damage. In the brain, for example, neurotransmitters responsible for signal transmission in the synapses accumulate in condensates. In the cell nucleus, too, an estimated one third of the molecules are organised in membraneless condensates.

The study of condensates – initiated by Hyman's ground-breaking discovery in 2009 – is still in its infancy but is now the fastest-growing pioneering field in cell biology. Researchers around the world are trying to uncover the secrets of the complex molecular interactions in the droplets. Pharmaceutical research is also heavily involved – in the hope of influencing condensate formation with drugs and curing diseases such as Alzheimer's or ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). In both cases, the cause of the disease is condensates that solidify into toxic deposits.

Anthony Hyman, 60, was born in the Israeli city of Haifa. After studying zoology in the UK at the University of Cambridge, he did his doctorate at King's College in 1987 on embryonic cell divisions of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. He went to the University of California in San Francisco as a postdoctoral researcher. In 1993, Hyman became group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. In 1999, he was one of the founding members of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), which he still heads today together with a team of directors. He has been a Fellow of the British Royal Society since 2007, an international member of the American National Academy of Sciences since 2020 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina since 2021.

Hyman likes to explain the scientific significance of condensate research using the example of a village: The villagers work in different places, for example in the bakery or the vegetable store. Cells are organised in a similar way. Similarly, the proteins and RNA of a cell work together in certain cell areas, including the condensates, and perform different functions there. While the molecules in the condensates interact biochemically in the usual way, the biochemical interactions make droplets form through a phase change – similar to how water turns to ice when it is cold. They then behave similarly to drops of oil in a vinaigrette. Oil and vinegar do not mix perfectly. If the dressing is left to stand, the oil droplets separated by the energy of stirring gradually join together to form larger droplets until, after a few hours, all the oil is floating on top again.

A similar observation led to the discovery of condensates in 2009, which represent a fundamentally new state of biological matter. Hyman and his interdisciplinary team developed a whole arsenal of methods to observe condensates and better understand their function. "We combine concepts from molecular biology, physical chemistry and soft matter physics," the prize winner explains.

With the funds from the Körber Prize, Hyman wants to refine the methods even further in the future. In addition, he wants to find the amino acid codes that influence the biophysical behaviour of proteins and explain what goes wrong in neurodegenerative diseases. He is convinced "that the cell biological understanding of condensate formation will have an important impact on future drug development". That is why Hyman is also co-founder of the Boston/Dresden-based company Dewpoint Therapeutics, which researches, among other things, the effect of drugs on condensates. Its priority is to prevent the formation of disease-causing deposits with suitable drugs.


Anthony Hyman in conversation with his research group member Anatol Fritsch. © Friedrun Reinhold

The Körber European Science Prize 2022 will be presented to Anthony Hyman on 2 September 2022 in the Great Festival Hall of Hamburg City Hall. The Körber Prize, endowed with one million euros, is one of the world's most highly endowed research prizes. Five percent of the prize money is to be used for science communication. Every year since 1985, the Körber Foundation has honoured a major breakthrough in the physical or life sciences in Europe with the Körber Prize. It is awarded for excellent and innovative research approaches with high application potential. To date, seven prize winners have also been awarded the Nobel Prize after receiving the Körber Prize.
 
Further information and photos to download at www.koerber-preis.de  

 

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2022 Institute News Press Releases Frontpage News
news-1156 Tue, 21 Jun 2022 10:50:47 +0200 3, 2, 1 … Science! https://www.mpi-cbg.de/news-outreach/news-media/article/3-2-1-science Dresden Science Night will happen again on July 8. We are back again! On July 8, 2022, from 5:00 pm to midnight, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) will open its doors for the Dresden Science Night with a lively and diverse program.

Children can try pipetting or estimate the number of flies in a tube during Science Night at the MPI-CBG. There will be guided tours for children to see the zebrafish. At eight science stations, visitors can build their own protein, have a look at miniature pancreas, learn about embryonic stem cells, transgenic mice and animal welfare, see the smallest structures in a cell, find water creatures in the institute's pond and identify them with researchers, observe forces within developing embryos, discover the architecture of the liver or see protein droplets in nematodes. Four lectures in the institute's auditorium complete the program.

This year we also offer guided tours in Russian or Ukrainian to our science stations. Interested people can ask at the reception desk for a guide.

Dresden's universities, non-university research institutions, and science-related businesses all open their doors to the general public once a year. Interested visitors will be able to experience science and technology, research and innovation, art and culture through a variety of lectures, experiments, guided tours, displays, and films.

We are looking forward to your visit!

The full program at the MPI-CBG is available here.
The program of the Dresden Long Night of Science can be found here. (currently only in available German)

 

 

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2022 Institute News Frontpage 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.

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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.

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