Biology and Geography

The main research focus in Medical Biology is on the analysis of molecular mechanisms. The exploration of fundamental structures and functions of living organisms were therefore at the forefront of research interest in this field.
The Genetics research group under Professor Ann Ehrenhofer-Murray examines how genetic material (DNA) is organised in the eukaryote cell nucleus and how alterations in its organisation influence gene transcription. In the process, they discovered a new mechanism for separating organisational areas from one another in the genome. This is especially important for steering gene activity correctly. Further investigation is concentrating on characterising the relevant proteins and understanding their structure in relation to their function.
Cells during reproduction must double their chromosomes and distribute them evenly between their daughter cells. The Molecular Biology I research group led by Professor Hemmo Meyer was able to show that the molecular nanomachine Cdc48/p97 controls correct distribution of chromosomes during cell division. This prevents genetic instability, a characteristic of cancer cells.
In the Molecular Biology II group of Professor Shirley Knauer, research primarily centres on 
cell biological and oncological basic research, its translational realisation and the development of cell–based assay systems aimed at identifying new therapeutically relevant target molecules. One main focus is on understanding the regulation of nucleo-cytoplasmic transport and its significance, not only in cellular homeostasis, but above all in cancer formation and as a potential point of application for new therapy strategies.
 Regulatory signalling cascades which control the cytoskeleton during dynamic processes such as cell migration or tumour cell invasion are the scientific focus of Professor Perihan Nalbant’s Molecular Cell Biology research group. Building on its expertise in fluorescence microscopy, the group was able to establish a number of elaborate live-cell analyses using video microscopy, for example with fluorescence biosensors in combination with new cell-biological assays, and is therefore in a position to explore spatial and temporal regulation of the cytoskeleton in various migrating cell types (epithelial cells, fibroblasts or tumour cells).
The research of Professor Michael Ehrmann and his Microbiology II workgroup concentrates on the molecular understanding of biological protein quality control. It is essential for the organism that defective proteins are identified and detoxified, since they are otherwise beneficial to the development of diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer, Parkinson or arthritis. The loss of control proteins in bacteria can impede virulence. In two articles in the widely respected journal Nature Structural and Molecular Biology, the scientists join a team of researchers from Vienna (Professor Tim Clausen) and colleagues from Essen (Professor Markus Kaiser) in describing the latest findings on the multifunctional proteins DegP and HtrA1, which eliminate malfunctional proteins by way of a complexly regulated mechanism. This new insight into the operation of 
these biological protection factors should help in future in the fight against bacterial infections and Alzheimer’s disease.
Professor Daniel Hoffmann and his Bioinformatics working group developed a new computer-supported method for HIV diagnostics. For a given part of the HIV genome of a patient, the method predicts which route this particular virus will take into the cells and whether a specific class of medication (“co-receptor blockers”) will be effective or not. This method is the most precise of its kind worldwide to date.
In conjunction with the Bioinformatics group, the Biochemistry working group (Professor Peter Bayer) is analysing the structure and design of functional miniproteins with either an antiviral or antibacterial effect. The aim is also to develop and employ miniproteins in cellular diagnostics (probes).
In the Microbiology I group (Professor Reinhard Hensel), work continues in the main focus of 
research, “Hyperthermophilic Archaea” and their adjustment to extremely high temperatures, on analysing the genome sequence of the hyperthermophilic archaeum Thermoproteus tenax.
The Developmental Biology research group 
of Professor Andrea Vortkamp is concerned with a rare condition of the skeleton causing restricted mobility, pain and short bone growth in sufferers – particularly children. In the disease, benign 
cartilaginous bone tumours called exostoses or osteochondromas develop close to the joints. With the aid of a new mouse model, these tumours can now be investigated at an early stage.
The main research area of Medical Biology received a further boost with the appointment of the new Chair of Chemical Biology, Professor Markus Kaiser, who was awarded the “ERC Starting Grant 2010” for his “Chemical biology of natural products in plant-bacteria interactions” project, with the “in vivo Imaging” professorship (appointment pending), and with the addition of two further Medical Faculty professorships to be situated on the Essen Campus.