Welcome to the Collaborative Research Centre 1208

Congratulations Kristina!

Kristina Ruhnau has successfully defended her PhD thesis on "Molecular biological and biochemical analyses to characterize the function of CC2D1 proteins" on 22nd July 2020. Kristina is team member of the SFB 1208 subproject B01 and her supervisor is Prof. Dr. Thomas Klein.
We sincerely congratulate her on passing the examination and are happy that she will further join our SFB community as a Postdoc.


Congratulations, Tobias!

Tobias Beer has successfully defended his PhD thesis on "Isolation and cellular characterization of the hemolysin A type 1 secretion system from Escherichia coli".
He was team member of the SFB 1208 subproject A01 and supervised by Prof. Lutz Schmitt.
We sincerely congratulate Tobias on passing the examination and wish him every success in the future.

Huge banner for an excellent exam - Congratulations, Michèle!

Congratulations to Michèle Reindl, who successfully passed the PhD examination on her project entitled “A novel core factor for unconventional secretion in Ustilago maydis” on Friday, 19th of June.
In the SFB 1208, Michèle was part of the Ustilago team in subproject A09. She was supervised by Dr. Kerstin Schipper.
Unfortunately, she also had to defend her doctoral thesis in a closed exam due to the current Corona situation.

As a new invention to avoid close contacts, she received a huge banner instead of a PhD tray.
Her colleagues and the SFB1208 team sincerely wish her all the best for the future and for her new job starting in July!  

Congratulations on an excellent exam, Stephan!

On June 18th, 2020, Stephan Schott-Verdugo completed his doctorate in an excellent manner with "summa cum laude" and thus received his doctorate.
His PhD thesis deals with "Modeling of membrane proteins in a bilayer context: from system construction to structural prediction and dynamics".

Stephan participated in a shared/dual PhD program together with University of Talca, Chile, of which Prof. Ingo Dreyer, our former Mercator fellow, was also a member of the examination committee. In CRC 1208 Stephan is a team member of the subproject A03 and within the Graduate School "MB Train". His supervisor is Prof. Dr. Holger Gohlke.

Due to the corona virus and the related restrictions in university operations, the doctoral thesis was only carried out within the framework of the examiners. Nevertheless, we sincerely congratulate Stephan on passing the examination and wish him every success in the future.

Congratulations on an excellent exam, Claudia!

On March 16th, 2020, Claudia Hoppen completed her doctorate in an excellent manner. She defended her PhD thesis on "Functional and Structural Characterisation of Copper Chaperon Interactions with the Ethylene Receptor Family" with "summa cum laude" and thus received her doctorate.

Claudia is team member of the SFB 1208 subproject B06 and within the Graduate School "MB Train". Her supervisor is Prof. Dr. Georg Groth.

Due to the corona virus and the related restrictions in university operations, the doctoral thesis was only carried out within the framework of the examiners. Nevertheless, we sincerely congratulate Claudia on passing the examination and wish her every success in the future.


Chlamydia build their own entrance into human cells - Publication in PNAS

Chlamydia, a type of pathogenic bacteria, need to penetrate human cells in order to multiply. Researchers from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) have now identified the bacterial protein SemC, which is secreted into the cell and restructures the cell membrane at the entry site. SemC forces the cell’s own protein SNX9 to assist it in this process. Together with scientists from Paris and Munich, a team of researchers working under Prof. Dr. Johannes Hegemann and Dr. Katja Mölleken has published these findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS).

A bacterium of the type Chlamydia pneumoniae uses adhesins (grey) to bind to surface proteins of a human cell from the outside. The Chlamydia ‘protein needle’ penetrates the plasma membrane (PM) and transports the chlamydial SemC protein (green) from the interior of the bacterium directly into the interior of the human cell. SemC then binds to the PM beneath the bacterial cell and bends the PM (red double line). The curvature of the PM allows the human endocytosis protein SNX9 (red) to bind to the curved PM and the SemC protein located there. The accumulation of SNX9 at the PM leads to the formation of actin filaments (grey fibres), which are essential for further internalisation of the Chlamydium. (Image: HHU / Dr. Sebastian Hänsch)

There are two types of Chlamydia that infect humans: Chlamydia trachomatis and Chlamydia pneumoniae (Cpn). The former trigger sexual diseases, while Cpn lead to acute infections of the upper and lower respiratory tract. Cpn are also linked to various chronic diseases such as bronchitis and asthma as well as to lung cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and atherosclerosis. The majority of the German population will be infected with these bacteria over the course of their lives.

In order to invade the human cell, the Chlamydia must first penetrate the human cell’s membrane, known as the ‘plasma membrane’ (PM). The membrane comprises a lipid bilayer with proteins stored inside. By indenting parts of the PM, the cell can absorb fluid and particles from its environment into the cell interior, a process referred to as ‘endocytosis’.

Pathogens such as Chlamydia, which also need to get inside the cell, hijack the endocytosis mechanism for their own ends. Prof. Dr. Johannes Hegemann’s working group at the HHU Institute of Functional Microbial Genomics has now identified a chlamydial protein that plays the decisive role in penetration of Cpn into the human cell. The protein is named SemC, and it was discovered by Dr. Gido Murra from Prof. Hegemann’s working group.

In a first step, the Chlamydium succeeds in secreting SemC into the host cell. The fellow researchers from the Pasteur Institute in Paris were able to demonstrate that SemC is transported directly by the bacterium into the cell interior using a mechanism employed by many pathogenic bacteria that resembles a ‘protein needle’. Once inside the cell, the protein binds to the inner side of the PM and changes its structure locally. This changes the design of the membrane, bending it more than normal. Dr. Katja Mölleken has this to say: “With SemC, we have discovered the very first protein of an infectious agent that is able to change the PM in this way.”

The more pronounced membrane curvature triggered by SemC then causes the body’s own protein SNX9 to bind to this site, where it binds both to the curved membrane and to the SemC waiting there, thus amplifying the curvature even more. The SNX9 protein is essential for the endocytosis processes in human cells, as it builds up the actin cytoskeleton at the indented PM. The binding of SNX9 to the PM, caused by SemC, then allows the Chlamydium to penetrate the cell from the outside through a process of endocytosis at the curved part of the PM and to continue to multiply inside the cell. “The structure of the PM of the host cell is therefore an important factor in facilitating the infection of a cell by the pathogen,” emphasises Dr. Sebastian Hänsch. And Dominik Spona adds: “In this way, the bacterium basically creates its own door into the cell.”

The research group has found further important evidence of the interaction between SNX9 and SemC induced by Cpn. The scientists at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Munich created human cells in which the quantity of SNX9 protein had been heavily reduced. Dominik Spona explains: “In these cells, it was much more difficult for Cpn to use endocytosis to penetrate the plasma membrane and to infect the cell.”

The discovery opens up new possibilities for treating chlamydial infections and for developing targeted vaccines to fight off the bacteria at an early stage. Head of the working group, Prof. Hegemann, says: “Once the precise mechanism has been decoded, potential points of attack can be identified for blocking this mechanism, for example by inhibiting the binding of SemC to the PM or to the body’s own SNX9 protein.”

Original publication
Sebastian Hänsch, Dominik Spona, Gido Murra, Karl Köhrer, Agathe Subtil, Ana Rita Furtado, Stephan F. Lichtenthaler, Bastian Dislich, Katja Mölleken, and Johannes H. Hegemann, Chlamydia-induced curvature of the host-cell plasma membrane is required for infection, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jan 21. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1911528117

See also: Andrea Du Toit, Bend out of shape. Research Highlight in: Nature Reviews Microbiology. 2020 Feb 21. DOI: doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-0339-6

Arne Claussen

Superresolution live-cell imaging provides unexpected insights into the dynamic structure of mitochondria - Publication in EMBO Reports

As power plants and energy stores, mitochondria are essential components of almost all cells in plants, fungi and animals. Until now, it has been assumed that these functions underlie a static structure of mitochondrial membranes. Researchers at the Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) and the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have now discovered that the inner membranes of mitochondria are by no means static, but rather constantly change their structure every few seconds in living cells.
This dynamic adaptation process further increases the performance of our cellular power plants. "In our opinion, this finding fundamentally changes the way our cellular power plants work and will probably change the textbooks," says Prof. Dr. Andreas Reichert, Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I at the HHU. The results are described in a publication in EMBO Reports.

Mitochondria are extremely important components in cells performing vital functions including the regulated conversion of energy from food into chemical energy in the form of ATP. ATP is the energy currency of cells and an adult human being produces (and consumes) approximately 75 kilograms of ATP per day. One molecule of ATP is produced about 20,000 times a day and then consumed again for energy utilization. This immense synthesis capacity takes place in the inner membrane of the mitochondria, which has numerous folds called cristae. It was previously assumed that a specific static structure of the cristae ensured the synthesis of ATP. Whether and to what extent cristae membranes are able to dynamically adapt or alter their structure in living cells and which proteins are required to do so, was unknown.

The research team of Prof. Dr. Andreas Reichert with Dr. Arun Kondadi and Dr. Ruchika Anand from the Institute of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology I of the HHU in collaboration with the research team of Prof. Dr. Orian Shirihai and Prof. Dr. Marc Liesa from UCLA (USA), also supported by the Center for Advanced Imaging (CAi) of HHU, succeeded for the first time in showing that cristae membranes in living cells continuously change their structure dynamically within seconds within mitochondria. This showed that the cristae membrane dynamics requires a recently identified protein complex, the MICOS complex. Malfunctions of the MICOS complex can lead to various serious diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and a form of mitochondrial encephalopathy with liver damage. After the identification of the first protein component of this complex (Fcj1/Mic60) about ten years ago by Prof. Andreas Reichert and his research group, this is another important step to elucidate the function of the MICOS complex.

"Our now published observations lead to the model that cristae, after membrane fission, can exist for a short time as isolated vesicles within mitochondria and then re-fuse with the inner membrane. This enables an optimal and extremely rapid adaptation to the energetic requirements in a cell," said Prof. Andreas Reichert.

Publication in EMBO Reports: Original publication Kondadi et al. 2020

Twitter: @ReichertLab

Files: Animated video: Cristae membranes dynamically adapt their structures in the living cell

Congratulations Karo!

On Wednesday, 5th of February, 2020, Karolin Montag successfully passed her PhD thesis defense examination on SEC14-like protein interactions with iron transporter IRT1 in plants. Karolin was team member of the SFB 1208 subproject B05 and supervised by Prof. Dr. Petra Bauer and PD Dr. Rumen Ivanov.
Congratulations on her achievement and best wishes to Karolin for her new job!

Congratulations Lena!

On January 30th, 2020, Lena Müller has successfully defended her PhD thesis on "Copper transport and copper transport and coordination chemistry of the copper-binding domain of the ethylene receptor ETR1". Lena Müller is team member of the SFB 1208 subproject B06 and her supervisor is Prof. Dr. Georg Groth.
We sincerely congratulate Lena on passing the examination and wish her every success in the future.





Collaborative Research Centre 1208 extended!

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has approved an extension of the Düsseldorf Collaborative Research Centre 1208 for the analysis of the identity and dynamics of biological membrane systems by a further four years from the beginning of 2020 to the end of 2023. The DFG's funding decision confirms that the life sciences play an outstanding role in HHU research.
"Over the past four years, we have laid an excellent foundation on which we can now continue to build. Initially, it was important to expand the respective core projects with the competencies of other groups and thus bring the synergy potential of the research network to life," explains Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt, spokesperson of the SFB at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. "40% of our publications would not have been possible without the SFB - we are very proud that our projects are so well integrated".
During the second term of the SFB, the intensive methodological and conceptual collaborations will be expanded to include current methods from physics, chemistry and synthetic life sciences and previously unrepresented membrane systems will be investigated. In this way, the importance of membrane biology and new technical developments are taken into account.

„Dynamics of Membrane Systems“: 2nd International Conference in Düsseldorf

18.03.2019 – On 12.-14. March 2019, the CRC 1208 of Heinrich-Heine-University held his 2nd International Conference „Dynamics of Membrane Systems“. Internationally renowned speakers presented their research on various key areas of membrane research. 


Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt, chair of the CRC 1208, welcomed all participants in the Hotel MutterHaus in Düsseldorf.

In the Collaborative Research Center 1208 "Identity and Dynamics of Membrane Systems - from Molecules to Cellular Functions", essential biological processes are investigated both on individual molecules in membranes and in the interaction between the different membrane systems. The program of the international conference included talks on the special molecular processes in and on membranes within cells and between cells: "Membrane transporters", "Vesicular transport in biogenesis", "Communication in endomembrane systems" and "Communication between cells - pathogenicity".
Current projects of the participants were presented and discussed on posters. Much attention has also been given to the necessary special set of methods that combine structural, biochemical and cellular techniques to elucidate the molecular and cellular processes on a time scale from nanoseconds to days.
In particular, the informal exchange contributed to the special atmosphere between the invited, experienced and the scientists still at the beginning of their careers. The opportunity to initiate and deepen cooperation has been used at all levels.
The CRC 1208 is pleased about the three successful days in which many new insights were gained and contacts made.


Prof. Toru Fujiwara  Mercator Fellow 2018

The CRC 1208 warmly welcomes Prof. Toru Fujiwara from University Tokyo, Japan, as our Mercator Fellow in summer 2018.

Toru Fujiwara leads the Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers in the Department of Applied Biological Chemistry as a professor at the University of Tokyo.
His group is motivated to elucidate molecular genetics of plant nutrition, cell-to-cell movement of macromolecules and plant responses to nutritional conditions.

Plant nutrition is an important foundation of plant production and our life totally depends on plant production. Living organisms including plants have sophisticated mechanisms to acquire nutrients from environments and a number of biological processes are involved in the nutrient acquisition and utilization. The Laboratory of Plant Nutrition and Fertilizers study these processes for better understanding or the process and better production of crops/plants. Their field of study includes identification of nutrient transporters, molecular mechanisms of plant response to nutrient conditions, generation of nutrient-stress tolerant plants.

Toru Fujiwara joins the CRC 1208 in SS 2018 to push joint research projects and publications.
Additionally, he will give lectures and methodogical courses on his current research as well as his expertise as referee and editor of scientific journals.

The Collaborative Research Center 1208 looks forward to an exciting and productive cooperation!

Prof. Toru Fujiwara, University of Tokyo

Dr. Eva Nowack receives the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize 2018

Eva Nowack will receive the most important award for early career researchers in Germany for her research about evolution of eukaryotic cell organelles.

Dr. Eva Nowack Foto: Ellen B. Reitz

Dr. Eva Nowack will be awarded with the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize 2018 for her outstanding achievements in the field of organelle evolution in eukaryotic cells. Especially her publications proving independent parallel development of photosynthetic organelles in the evolution of eukaryotic organisms were honored.

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, valued at €20,000, is the most important award for early career researchers in Germany. It is a distinction for young researchers and provides further incentive for excellent achievements in their research work. The recipients were chosen by a selection committee in Bonn appointed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

"I am very happy about the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Preis. It is a great honor and a valuable award that enables me and my group to use the prize money to promote new project ideas" says Eva Nowack.

The Emmy-Noether group leader was able to prove that, contrary to established theory, organelles were  acquired more than twice in eukaryotic evolution. This gives her valuable insights into intermediate stages of integrating a bacterial endosymbiont as a eukaryotic cell organelle.

"As an outstanding junior scientist in the field of organelle evolution, Eva Nowack is awarded the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize. Her pioneering work on the photosynthetic amoeba Paulinella chromatophora already resulted in pioneering discoveries that broke the scientific view of the evolution of photosynthetic organelles and are equally crucial to the overall development of eukaryotic cell compartments. Despite being at a relatively early stage of career, her results have already found their way into textbooks of biology" emphasizes Prof. Michael Feldbrügge in his assessment.

A total of 140 researchers from all disciplines had been proposed for this year's competition. "The outstanding CVs and high-quality work of the candidates made it a very gratifying task for the committee to select the winners among them," said the chairperson of the selection committee, the mathematician and DFG Vice-President Prof. Dr. med. Marlis Hochbruck. The award will be presented on May 29, 2018 as part of a festive event in Berlin.

Dr. Nowack is also involved in the research network of SFB 1208 on the dynamics of membrane systems as well as in the Manchot graduate school "Molecules of infection" at the Heinrich Heine University. In the SFB 1208 she investigates the processes at the contact zone between the host cell and its newly acquired photosynthetic organelles in the amoeba Paulinella chromatophora (http://www.sfb1208.hhu.de/en/projects-and-groups/a09-en.html).

Weiterführende Informationen:
Die Verleihung der Heinz Maier-Leibnitz-Preise 2018 fand am 29. Mai in Berlin statt.
Ausführliche Informationen zum Preis und den bisherigen Preisträgerinnen und Preisträgern finden sich unter: www.dfg.de/maier-leibnitz-preis


„Dynamics of Membrane Systems“: 1. International Conference in Düsseldorf

18.09.2017 – On 13.-15. September 2017, the CRC 1208 of the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences of Heinrich-Heine-University held his first international conference.

Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt, chair of the CRC 1208, welcomed all participants in the „K20 - gallery of art“ in Düsseldorf.

International renowned invited speakers as well as young group leaders of the CRC provide insights into the molecular processes in and at the membrane systems inside and between cells. Main topics were „membrane transporters“, „vesicular transport in biogenesis“, „endomembrane (organelle) communication“ and „intercellular communication – pathogenicity“. These were completed by the part „emerging techniques“, which elucidate the range of structural, biochemical and cell biological technologies, necessary to decipher the multidimensional interplay between components of different membrane systems and the membranes themselves.

In the foyer of the Trinkaus-Auditorium participants, invited guests and member of the CRC discussed their projects presented on posters and take the advantage to initiate new or enhance established cooperations.

After this successful meeting the CRC 1208 is looking forward to the next symposia, planned for May 2018 and March 2019.



New Professorship for Synthetic Membrane Systems within CRC 1208:

A Warm Welcome to Alexej Kedrov!

On Friday, July 7, 2017, Dr. Alexej Kedrov was appointed to the new professorship „Synthetic Membrane Systems“ at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. The professorship (W1 tenure track W2) is embedded in the Collaborative Research Centre 1208 „Identity and Dynamics of Membrane Systems – From Molecules to Cellular Functions“. Professor Lutz Schmitt, speaker of the CRC 1208, is convinced that the new techniques and systems of Professor Kedrov will strengthen the CRC 1208.

Prior to joining Heinrich Heine University, Alexej Kedrov was project leader at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and senior researcher at the University of Groningen. He completed his doctoral thesis „Observing molecular interactions that determine stability, folding, and functional states of single Na+/H+ antiporters” in 2006 at the Technical University of Dresden & International Max Planck Research School. His research interest and expertise focus on effects of macromolecular crowding on membrane-associated processes. He is aiming to investigate molecular recognition, assembly and folding processes in de novo designed crowded membranes by combining biophysical, biochemical and synthetic biology approaches.
Soon, further information will be available here.


Prof. Dr. Alexej Kedrov
Heinrich-Heine-University Düsseldorf
Building 26.32.03 Room 29.
Universitätsstr. 1
40225 Düsseldorf
E-mail: kedrov@hhu.de
Phone: 0211-81-13731

Spokesman of SFB 1208

Prof. Dr. Lutz Schmitt

Universitätsstraße 1
Building: 26.42
Floor/Room: 03.27
Phone +49 211 81-10773
Fax +49 211 81-15310

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