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Departments

PROTEIN EVOLUTION – THE BASIC BUILDING BLOCKS OF LIFE

Director: Andrei Lupas
Proteins provide the chemical basis for all processes of life. We investigate their origin and the evolution of their folds and mechanisms of action by means of bioinformatics, biochemistry and structural biology.

Phylogenetic tree of AAA ATPases. The putative root of the tree is circled and the six main clades are color-coded (BCS1 group - slate blue; metalloproteases - yellow; meiotic group - green; D1 domains - cyan; D2 domains - blue; proteasomal subunits - brown). The two small clades marked in red lie outside the proteasomal clade, yet most likely form complexes with the proteasome.

BIOCHEMISTRY – POST-TRANSCRIPTIONAL REGULATION OF GENE EXPRESSION

Director: Elisa Izaurralde
The Department of Biochemistry is devoted to studying post-transcriptional mechanisms of gene expression, focusing on various aspects of RNA biology. We use an interdisciplinary approach combining biochemistry and bioinformatics together with structural, molecular and cellular biology.



GENETICS – FROM EGG TO ORGANISM

Director: Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard
We are investigating the formation of adult structures that arise during juvenile development in zebrafish (Danio rerio) with the aim to understand the genetic basis of morphological variation in evolution. The focus of our research is the skin and its structures such as scales and fins and the striped pigmentation pattern, which are responsible for the shape and appearance of the adult zebrafish.



INTEGRATIVE EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY

Director: Ralf Sommer
How do developmental processes change during evolution? We take an integrative approach and try to link evo-devo with population genetics and evolutionary ecology by studying the nematode Pristionchus pacificus, which lives in a defined scarab beetle ecosystem.



CELL BIOLOGY – FROM SINGLE CELL TO CELL DIVERSITY

Director: Gerd Jürgens
Plants like all multi-cellular organisms have to develop from a single cell. In our group we are studying temporal and spatial signals that guide the establishment of the initial body organization in early embryogenesis.



MOLECULAR BIOLOGY – ADAPTATION TO CHANGES

Director: Detlef Weigel
There is tremendous phenotypic diversity between and within species. Much of this is thought to reflect adaptation to the environment. Drawing on tools from high-throughout genomics to forward genetics, we are investigating the mechanisms responsible for adaptive variation.

genomic and gentic adaptions

Research Groups

STRUCTURAL BIOLOGY OF mRNA LOCALIZATION

Research Group Leader: Fulvia Bono
The localization of mRNAs at specific sites within the cytoplasm often has a crucial role in the regulation of protein production. Our aim is to unravel the molecular basis for the assembly and transport of mRNA localization particles using biochemical and structural methods.



MACHINE LEARNING & COMPUTATIONAL BIOLOGY

Research Group Leader: Karsten Borgwardt
Our research area is the development of intelligent algorithms for analyzing complex systems in biology. It is located at the intersection of machine learning, data mining and bioinformatics. It contributes to these three fields. Our research reaches deep into statistics, algorithmics and scientific computing.



PROTEIN DESIGN

Research Group Leader: Birte Höcker
We study structure-function relationships and the evolution of stable protein folds in order to apply this knowledge to rationally solve protein design problems. In our research we combine theoretical and experimental approaches to build proteins with desired new properties.



NEUROBIOLOGY OF MARINE ZOOPLANKTON

Max Planck Research Group Leader: Gáspár Jékely
Nervous systems first evolved in the ocean. We study the simplest neuronal circuits in tiny marine ciliated zooplankton in an attempt to understand how the first brains looked like and functioned.

The axonal scaffold in a 2 day old Platynereis larva

EVOLUTIONARY DYNAMICS AND BIOPHYSICS

Max Planck Research Group Leader: Richard Neher
Evolution results from the interplay of genetic diversity generated by mutation and recombination as well as selection for survival. We study this interplay in evolution of HIV and analyze the structure of genotype-phenotype maps at the molecular level.



NMR SPECTROSCOPY OF LARGE COMPLEXES

Max Planck Research Group Leader: Remco Sprangers
In our group we use NMR spectroscopy and X-ray crystallography to study how mRNA is degraded in the cell. We are especially interested in how protein-protein interactions and protein motions regulate the activity of enzyme complexes involved.



MECHANISMS OF UBIQUITIN-DEPENDENT CELL SIGNALING

Max Planck Research Group Leader: Silke Wiesner
The attachment of ubiquitin to proteins controls cellular signaling and behavior. Using NMR spectroscopy and biochemical methods we study the molecular basis of ubiquitylation and thereby seek to understand how diseases like cancer arise from dysfuntional ubiquitylation enzymes.

 


Departmental Project Leaders

NMR SPECTROSCOPY  

Project Leader: Murray Coles | Department: Protein Evolution - Lupas
NMR spectroscopy is a powerful tool for examining the structure, dynamics and interactions of biological macromolecules in solution. The NMR spectroscopy group is part of the wider structural biology platform within the Department of Protein Evolution, and is involved in several projects investigating protein structure and function. Several projects study the evolution of complex protein folds from simpler peptide units.



CELLULAR PROTEIN FOLDING AND UNFOLDING: CHAPERONINS AND AAA ATPASES

Project Leader: Jörg Martin | Department: Protein Evolution - Lupas  
Folding and unfolding of proteins in the cell is mediated by complex macromolecular machines. We investigate and compare properties of the ring-shaped bacterial GroEL/GroES chaperonin system and archaeal thermosomes, and analyse mechanistic properties of hexameric AAA ATPases.

Crystal structure of a GroEL/GroES chaperonin complex

STRUCTURE FUNCTION RELATIONSHIP  

Project Leader: Steffen Schmidt | Department: Biochemistry - Izaurralde  
We are interested in the effect of mutations on the function of a protein and the implication of this on diseases and population genetics.



METHODS IN PROTEIN NMR  

Project Leader: Vincent Truffault | Department: Biochemistry - Izaurralde 
High resolution structure determination of proteins in solution using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy crucially depends on continuous improvement of the quality of the NMR experiments. Our new NMR pulse sequences are optimized to provide artifact-free structural information.



RETROTRANSPOSITION AND REGULATORY RNAs  

Project Leader: Oliver Weichenrieder | Department:  Biochemistry - Izaurralde  
We study the molecular basis of cellular processes that are mediated by RNA. Our focus is on molecular parasites in the human genome (LINE-1 and Alu retrotransposons) and on the regulation of mRNA degradation. We use x-ray crystallography together with biochemical approaches and cell-based assays.

Many cellular processes are regulated at the level of RNA. We investigate the molecular mechanisms that govern the retrotransposition, the translational repression and the regulated degradation of RNA. We use X-ray crystallography in combination with biochemical approaches and cell-based assays.

LOCALIZATION OF RNA DURING DROSOPHILA OOGENESIS  

Project Leader: Uwe Irion | Department: Genetics - Nüsslein-Volhard  
Cellular asymmetries are very often based on the differential localization of RNA molecules. We use a combination of genetic, biochemical and cell biological methods to study the mechanism of RNA localization during oogenesis in the fruit fly. Localization of RNA within the egg cell is essential for later development of anterior structures – head and thorax - in the embryo.

 in situ hybridization showing the localization of bicoid (red) and oskar (blue) RNAs in a Drosophila oocyte.

NEURAL DEVELOPMENT AND WIRING  

Project Leader: Christian Söllner | Department: Genetics - Nüsslein-Volhard
Extracellular protein-protein interactions are centrally involved in the initiation of cell-cell communication events required for proper nervous system wiring. The identification of such neural cell surface receptor-ligand pairs and their functional validation is the main focus of our research.

Dorsal view of a 5-day-old zebrafish head showing retinal ganglion cell axons projecting into the contralateral tectum.

GENETICS IN PARASITIC NEMATODES  

Project Leader: Adrian Streit | Department:  Evolutionary Biology - Sommer
We combine molecular and genetic approaches to study life history switches and reproductive strategies in parasitic nematodes of the genera Strongyloides and Onchocerca.

We combine molecular and genetic approaches to study life history switches, i. e. the switch between the parasitic and the free-living cycle and sex determination in the parasitic nematode genus Strongyloides spp.

ENTOMO-NEMATOLOGY  

Project Leader: Matthias Herrmann | Department: Evolutionary Biology - Sommer  
Nematode biology, phylogeny and ecology: Being convinced that environments shape genomes we hope that the study of ecology, behaviour, interactions and relationships of nematodes in nature will explain many results molecular biology provided already but could not be explained so far.



FERTILIZATION AND EMBRYOGENESIS IN PLANTS  

Project Leader: Martin Bayer | Department: Cell Biology - Jürgens  
Our group is interested in signaling pathways that link fertilization with the onset of embryogenesis in plants. We are focusing on factors provided by the male gametophyte that play an important role in gamete interaction and early embryogenesis.



CONTROL OF FLOWERING TIME  

Project Leader: Markus Schmid | Department: Molecular Biology - Weigel
Work in our group aims to understand the precise mechanisms that govern flowering time, in particular in response to inductive photoperiod, in the best-understood model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. We employ a mix of molecular, genetics and genome-wide analyses.


HANS MEINHARDT

We have developed models for biological pattern formation that account for essential steps in development. Meanwhile many of the predicted interactions found are supported by molecular-genetic observations.


ALFRED GIERER

My work is mainly concerned with the relation between life sciences and physics in general, as well as with the theory of pattern formation and neural development in particular.


FRIEDRICH BONHOEFFER

Bacterial DNA replication, in vivo and in vitro; neuro-embryology, in vivo- and in vitro-studies of the topographic axonal projection from the retina to the tectum.