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Our Research Focus


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 Mechanobiology of Cells

"We research the mechanobiology of living cells using modern methods of biophysics and cell biology, which we also improve upon, where necessary. We are interested in the mechanics of the cells themselves, how they move, adhere to their environment or exert forces on neighbouring cells. We are particularly interested in the question of how cells recognize mechanical signals from their environment and react to them, as this seems to be very important for the development of the body and for certain diseases. Mechanical interactions are essential for almost every function - whether of individual cells or entire organs. For example, they control the development of embryos and 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)


Collective Phenomena in Biological Systems

“We investigate phenomena resulting from simultaneous interactions between many constituents, like biomacromolecules and red blood cells. We aim towards the microscopic understanding of dynamics, kinetics, and self-assembly, both in equilibrium and out-of-equilibrium, as well as and under the action of external stimuli.”

Prof. Jan Karel George Dhont (IBI-4)


Understanding Life in Motion

“The essential characteristics of living matter are activity and energy consumption. Living biological systems — and similarly active soft matter — are therefore persistently in a state far from thermal equilibrium. Which are the properties of active systems under such non-equilibrium conditions? What are the structures, dynamics, and collective behaviours, which develop in these processes? In order to address such key questions, we employ theoretical methods and 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 — such as bacteria, and the interaction of nanoparticles with membranes.”

Prof. Gerhard Gompper (IBI-5 and IAS-2)


Mechanisms of Protein Folding and Conformational Dynamics

“Proteins are synthesized on the ribosome as linear polypeptide chains and must first create their specific spatial structure (folding) before they can perform their function. How does the protein folding process work in detail? In general, synthesis and folding take place in parallel. In our work, we develop methods that allow us to apply force-based and fluorescence-based single-molecule techniques, in order to better understand the link between synthesis and the folding of proteins. We apply these techniques in particular to multi-domain proteins. We do not only study folding intermediates, but also the functional conformation dynamics of fully folded protein structures.”

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)