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Cell signaling and communication

"All complex functions of the human body require the communication between cells and cell networks. Our aim is to understand how cells generate electrical and chemical signals and how such signals are transmitted from one cell to the other, with particular interest into electrical signaling of neurons and synaptic transmission in the brain. We study cell signaling with biophysical methods, explore the function of ion channels and transporters with computational and experimental approaches, and analyze the impact of these transport processes for the cell function. By examining pathomechanisms underlying human diseases we seek to understand how altered cell signaling causes cell and organ dysfunction."
Prof. Christoph Fahlke (IBI-1)


Exploring the Biomechanics of Cells

“We investigate the biomechanics of living cells with modern methods of biophysics and cellular biology, improving them if necessary. We are interested in the mechanics of the cells themselves, how they move and how they adhere to their environment. We are particularly fascinated by the question of how cells recognize mechanical signals from their surroundings and react to them, because this mechanism seems to be very important for the development of the body, and also for some diseases. For almost every function – whether of individual cells or entire organs – interaction is essential. It controls the development of embryos, for example, and also cell division.”
Prof. Rudolf Merkel (IBI-2)


Nanocomponents Listen to Cell Signals

“We are interested in the connection between biological and electronic systems. We examine the molecular, cellular and electronic as well as electrochemical processes at this interface. This enables us to produce sensors that can detect even the tiniest amounts of pollutants or biochemical substances in the environment or in body fluids, or can even exchange signals with cells. With our methods, more compatible and highly sensitive implants may be developed in future that can be used to replace destroyed sensory cells.”
Prof. Andreas Offenhäusser (IBI-3)


Letting Forces Do their Work

“We conduct research on the behavior and properties of (bio-) macromolecular* systems”, in equilibrium and out-of equilibrium. We are interested in the interaction of these systems with external forces, such as shearing forces, in electrical fields, forces resulting from confinement, and due to spatial gradients in temperature. Under such conditions, structures can form that do not exist in a state of equilibrium. They help us understand biological processes and point the way towards possible technological applications. In order to better account for these complex processes, we produce model systems with tailor-made chemical properties, develop analytical theory, and perform simulations.”
Prof. Jan Karel George Dhont (IBI-4)

* Macromolecules

Macromolecules are large molecules consisting
of several thousand atoms, for example starch or
protein molecules.


Understanding Life in Motion

“In biology, activity and energy consumption makes the difference between alive and dead.
How does active soft matter and living matter behave under such non-equilibrium conditions?
What are the structures, dynamics, and collective behaviors, which develop in these processes?
These are key questions we work on. In order to answer them, we run numerical simulations on supercomputers. The spectrum of our research covers systems from macromolecules* to cells and tissues. For example, we answer questions regarding the flow behaviour of blood cells, the dynamics of microswimmers, and the interaction of nanoparticles with membranes.”
Prof. Gerhard Gompper (IBI-5 and IAS-2)


Protein Structures as the Key to Knowledge

“We study the internal structure of proteins and protein complexes, such as visual purple in the eye, using numerous biophysical methods. Our knowledge on the atomic structure is the key to understanding their respective functions and allows us to gain insights into important processes, for example signalling pathways in cells at the molecular level. Another focus of our work is research into the folding of proteins. In order to understand how this process takes place in the cells, we track the evolution of the three-dimensional spatial structure step by step from the very beginning.”
Prof. Jörg Fitter (IBI-6)


Understanding Complex Interactions

“The function of each cell and each organism decisively depends on the dynamic interactions between biological macromolecules* and on their correct three-dimensional structure. Faulty interaction and incorrectly folded structures eventually lead to diseases and ageing. Our aim is to understand these interactions and to determine the three-dimensional structure of the protein complexes involved in decisive cellular processes – if possible, in atomic resolution. Beyond that, we develop novel methods for the early diagnosis and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases, with a strong focus on Alzheimer’s dementia.”
Prof. Dieter Willbold (IBI-7)


Learning from Neutrons

“How do the properties and functions of soft materials depend on their internal structure and the local dynamics of their components? Investigations with neutron radiation help us answer this question and result in a fundamental understanding of the key mechanisms in soft matter self-assembly, plastics processing, membrane ion-conduction and protein folding. Neutrons provide us with information from molecular to macroscopic length and time scales allowing us to analyze and tailor properties of advanced synthetic and biomaterials.”
Prof. Stephan Förster (IBI-8 and JCNS-1)