German Research Foundation Awards Funding to the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics for its Contributions to Two Collaborative Research Centers
Five scientists at the Institute strengthen successful cooperations to university partners and other research institutes through their cutting-edge projects
The German Research Foundation (DFG) will fund 9 new and 19 existing Collaborative Research Centers (CRC) for the next four years to support cutting edge research in institutional priority areas. Five senior and early career scientists at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Biophysics are involved in two of them with six innovative research projects on membrane-associated proteins.
Text: Katharina Kaefer
Max Planck Institute of Biophysics Has Been Developing Fruitful, Long-lasting Regional and Germany-wide Collaborations for Years
The established CRC 1129 “Integrative Analysis of Pathogen – Replication and Spread” (coordinated at the University Hospital Heidelberg, Spokesperson: Hans-Georg Kräusslich) has received funding for a third period. Within this CRC, Martin Beck (Head of the Department of Molecular Sociology at the MPI of Biophysics) investigates how nuclear pore complex and genome organization determine the integration of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). With this CRC, the MPI of Biophysics maintains several productive collaborations to renowned research institutions in Heidelberg, namely the University Hospital Heidelberg, Ruprecht Karl University Heidelberg, European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), and Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, as well as to the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz.
The newly funded CRC 1507 “Protein Assemblies and Machinery in Cell Membranes,” coordinated at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (Spokesperson: Robert Tampé) is a cooperation with the MPI of Biophysics, the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
The MPI of Biophysics and Goethe University Frankfurt am Main have been working together on various biophysical research projects for years. The new CRC not only strengthens the excellent local network and the successful collaboration between the institutes on Frankfurt’s Riedberg Campus but also aids to initiate connections to new recognized partners in Jena and Mainz. Last year, the MPI of Biophysics reached out to Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz in the frame of the new International Max Planck Research School on Cellular Biophysics and will now further expand this cooperation.
New CRC Will Investigate how Protein Assemblies in the Membrane Manage Cellular Communication, Health, and Defense
Cellular membranes are thin lipid envelopes that form the cell’s outer boundary but also separate different microenvironments within the cell where different biological processes happen. Complexes of a few or up to several hundred proteins are embedded in such cell membranes, acting as channels or molecular machines with moving parts. By investigating their assembly, structure and dynamics, the participating researchers of the new CRC 1507 aim to find out how such protein complexes regulate the exchange of nutrients and metabolites across membranes, control energy transfer, aid communication within the cell or between different cells, and mediate the interaction with pathogens or drugs.
Research at the MPI of Biophysics focuses mainly on the structure and function of membrane proteins which play an important role when investigating body functions and diseases, or developing new drugs. Five scientists of the Institute contribute to the CRC 1507 with their expert knowledge tackling different research questions.
Two early career researchers of the Institute will contribute with their own projects that connect well to the local research focus on membrane-associated protein complexes: Bonnie Murphy, independent Max Planck Research Group leader since 2020, will investigate the structure and dynamics of microbial protein complexes from hydrogen- and methane-producing organisms, seeking to understand how these complexes couple redox reactions to generate a proton gradient across the membrane. This gradient is crucial for the cell’s energy metabolism. Melanie McDowell, who joined the MPI of Biophysics as a Max Planck Research Group Leader this February, will study the molecular mechanisms that control the delivery and correct insertion of membrane proteins at the endoplasmic reticulum (ER). The ER is an intermediate station for all membrane proteins where they undergo folding, modifications and assembly before trafficking to their final destination.
Martin Beck, who leads the Department of Molecular Sociology, will study large protein complexes that form pores in the nuclear membrane and, thus, support the protection of the genomic integrity. Using molecular dynamics simulations and biomolecular modeling, Gerhard Hummer, Head of the Department of Theoretical Biophysics, will aid the understanding of protein complex assembly and conformational dynamics. Janet Vonck, project leader at the Department of Structural Biology, will focus on the assembly and function of a specific enzyme complex (complex I) involved in the respiratory chain, a process that is essential for the conversion of food to energy.
Website of the CRC 1507:
Website of the CRC 1129:
Press release of the German Research Foundation:
Press release of the Goethe University Frankfurt am Main (German only):
Press release of the Mainz University Medical Center (German only):
Press release of the Heidelberg University Hospital (German only):