Understanding Cellular Functions: New Collaborative Research Center Combines Life Science and Polymer Research

Understanding Cellular Functions: New Collaborative Research Center Combines Life Science and Polymer Research

interaction of biopolymers

image: The whole is more than the sum of its parts: CRC 1551 researchers will focus on the interaction of biopolymers.
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Credit: ill./©: Joana Caria / CRC 1551

Researchers at the new Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1551, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), intend to apply the results of polymer research to molecular processes to better understand what happens passes into the cells of the body. The CRC entitled “Polymer Concepts in Cellular Function” will be launched in January 2023 under the leadership of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), together with the Institute for Molecular Biology (IMB) and the Max Planck Institute for Research on polymers, both located on the JGU campus, as well as the Max Planck Institute for Biophysics Frankfurt and the University of Stuttgart as strong partners. Participating researchers will focus on the polymeric structures of DNA, RNA and proteins and how the polymeric properties of these biomolecules influence their functioning in cells. The DFG has agreed to provide approximately €9.5 million to fund the work of the new CRC during its first four-year funding period.

Focus on the polymeric properties of DNA, RNA and proteins

Polymers are molecules composed of many often identical building blocks, as in plastics. Polymers are molecules composed of many often identical building blocks, as in plastics. Essential biological macromolecules, such as DNA, RNA and proteins, are also polymers (biopolymers). ‘We intend to study the polymeric properties of DNA, RNA and proteins in order to understand how they interact at the biological level,’ explained Professor Edward Lemke, spokesperson for the new CRC. “To this end, we have brought together exceptional teams of researchers from the fields of life sciences and polymer research.” They will face considerable challenges, as up to 20% of the dry mass of each human cell is made up of RNA, while DNA, which is two meters long, is tightly enclosed in a cell nucleus of only 10 microns in diameter – yet can be transcribed and replicated.

Filling the gaps in understanding how biopolymers work in cells

The polymeric nature of these macromolecules in relation to biological mechanisms has so far received insufficient attention, although it has become apparent in recent years how important knowledge of polymers is for a comprehensive understanding of the processes cellular. At the same time, there are marked differences between what can be considered standard polymers and biopolymers. Thus, there is a need to translate the concepts of polymer research into the field of biology.

“The exchange of knowledge and expertise in our network will not primarily serve to make polymer research techniques accessible to the life sciences,” added Professor Dorothee Dormann, Deputy Spokesperson for the new CRC and Professor of Molecular Cell Biology at JGU. “One of our long-term goals is to describe and understand non-equilibrium processes in cells triggered by the complex interaction of many cellular polymers.” This research will also help researchers better understand how cells age at the molecular level and should provide a basis for the development of a new generation of therapeutics.

Related links:
https://www.grc.uni-mainz.de/prof-edward-a-lemke/ – Professor Edward A. Lemke, member of the GRC;
https://www.imb.de/research/lemke/research/ – Synthetic Biophysics Group of Protein Disorders at IMB;
https://www.grc.uni-mainz.de/prof-dorothee-dormann/ – GRC Fellow Professor Dorothee Dormann;
https://www.imb.de/research/our-research-groups/dormann/research – Molecular mechanisms of RNA-binding protein dysfunction in the IMB group of neurodegenerative diseases;
https://www.imb.de/ – Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB);
https://www.mpip-mainz.mpg.de/en/home – Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research

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