Newsletter PS-Park 'n' Science, 13th edition, Dec 2014
English text version of the Park'n'Science newsletterTable of Contents
Wheat straw as a source for new bioplastics
Technical breakthrough in paleogenomic research
Anti-malarial drugs from waste
Humans under the microscope - research at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park
Research and development at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park cover a wide range of topics, with excellent research work extending from the cosmos to the centre of the earth. In this edition we are focusing closely on topics that relate directly to humans. A new method is giving us fresh insight into the development of our species: according to this, formative cultural advances and intensive migration of populations are closely linked – perhaps this finding from events in the Neolithic Age could defuse some modern immigration debates. A process that gives people in newly industrialising countries access to urgently required medicines has also been developed at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. Focusing on the fundamentals is also effective for the smallest of all living things, the cell. Proteins produced outside the cell with the cell's own mechanisms could be a significant step forward for personalised medicine. From these examples, it is already clear that in the future there will be topics shared by the new Medizinische Hochschule Brandenburg and the institutions in the Potsdam-Golm Science Park.
As the initiators of the science park intended, geographical proximity facilitates contact between different institutions. Networks are now being built on the premises. You will also find two impressive examples of this in this newsletter. However, there still remains the risk that this development will fall victim to politico-economic mismanagement.
Now it's time for you to enjoy a relaxing and restful time over the coming holidays, and to end your year with as much reflection or activity as you want! I wish you a happy and successful New Year and
Wheat straw as a source for new bioplastics
As part of the state project "LIGNOS", scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP) have succeeded in making agricultural waste such as wheat straw completely usable. This opens up new avenues for using the naturally occurring resource, which is available in large quantities.
Straw, a waste product which is mostly made up of lignocellulose, has always been thought of being of rather limited value. At best it was used as straw in cattle sheds or for breaking up soil. Today the majority is used for energy – in other words it is burnt. The reason was that to date there was no suitable extraction method to break down the complex structural material of the cell walls, lignocellulose, into smaller units that can be transformed into something else. Yet this is precisely the aim of LIGNOS: to gain biopolymers after extracting the lignocellulose using new biotechnological methods.
The research concentrated on wheat straw, as it contains a large quantity of lignin in its compound form. In addition, there are such large quantities of wheat straw in Germany, that it cannot all be reused for agricultural purposes. As part of this project, important process steps to reuse lignocellulose were developed. In the developed process, the lignocellulose is fractionated following optimal pre-treatment and enzymatic conversion, so that it can be utilized to produce biobased plastics.
(Picture: Fraunhofer IAP)
The biomass used, wheat straw, can be almost completely split into lignin and saccharides (various types of sugar molecules). The high-quality lignins obtained are physiologically inoffensive biopolymers. They are perfect for manufacturing many plastic products (e.g. thermoplastics for the production of moulds, thermosetting plastics for casting particularly temperature-stable moulded parts and biogenic hot-melt adhesive for industrial applications).
The polysaccharides cellulose and hemicellulose that also result from the extraction can be transformed into sugar molecules through enzymatic hydrolysis. These sugars are not only suited to the purposes of biorefineries, but also primarily for the food industry.
As the process runs at relatively low temperatures, it is also energetically and ecologically more favourable than classic pulp cooking.
A demonstration plant is planned for further material development, in order to obtain and modify the raw lignin material by the kilogram. The usability of the new process also needs to be tested for other agricultural waste, in order to help the agricultural sector make full use of all its products.
The molecular biology working group at the University of Potsdam has primarily worked on developing a new enzyme system as part of this project. Together with Fraunhofer IAP and aevotis GmbH, these enzymes have been optimised for extracting a variety of lignocellulose components. The project was also supported by pearls Potsdam Research Network. The project coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm was awarded 2.8 million euros by the Federal Ministry for the Economy and European Opportunities in the State of Brandenburg and the EU (EFRE resources).
Technical breakthrough in paleogenomic research
An international research group has published the results of their many years of research into human skeletons from the Great Hungarian Plain in the specialist journal "Nature Communications". The research group includes biologist Prof. Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam.
Prof. Michael Hofreiter (Picture: K. Fritze)
In their study, the scientists provide evidence that the major technological developments in Central Europe were also connected to major genetic changes in the human population.
One of the most important results of the investigations is that a particular cranial bone, the petrous bone, which is the hard part of the temporal bone, contains considerably more associated, endogenous (i.e. the type from which the bone also stems) DNA than all other skeletal elements. It had previously been thought that teeth were the best substrate for ancient DNA studies. However, the petrous bone contains more endogenous DNA (up to 90 per cent) and less microbial, i.e. that of bacteria and fungi that colonised the fossils. This results in a considerable reduction in the costs of the paleogenome project, thus facilitating more extensive studies using ancient DNA. "It's a technical breakthrough," says Michael Hofreiter.
The second result of the study shows that the genetic diversity in the research area of Hungary then changed considerably every time there was a cultural revolution in Central Europe, so at the beginning of each of the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and between the Iron Age and modernity. It was previously unclear whether cultural changes were to be attributed primarily to the transfer of ideas or to the migration of population groups. The latest research clearly shows that there were also migrations of populations in each case. Otherwise the genetic signature of the population would not have changed so significantly. In contrast, the genetic changes appear to be rather small at times of cultural stability.
Lastly, the researchers could also prove from their investigations in Hungary that people in the Neolithic Age were already practising dairy farming. However, they probably consumed little fresh milk, but instead mostly processed dairy products, as they could not yet tolerate lactose.
Anti-malarial drugs from waste
The best medication we currently have against malaria can now be manufactured in a single step directly from plant waste from the previous production. This success was brought about through cooperation between chemists and engineers from Berlin, Potsdam and Magdeburg.
Prof. Seeberger (left) and Dr Kerry Gilmore with the new flow reactor (Picture: MPI-KG)
In cooperation with Prof. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern and colleagues from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems, a team led by Prof. Peter H. Seeberger, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, has succeeded in performing all process steps, including filtration, to produce the drugs continuously for the first time. With the new method, the complete drug manufacturing process can take place directly in the flow reactor at one location. The purity of these drugs meets the requirements of the regulatory authorities.
Two years ago, scientists in Berlin developed a photochemical flow reactor for the production of artemisinin, the raw material for malaria medication Artemether, Artesunate, Artemol and Dihydroartemisinin. They even managed to chemically manufacture the plant ingredient artemisinin from the extraction waste after it had been extracted from the sweet wormwood (Artemisia annua). In the past, the transformation of the raw material into the medication was carried out by pharmaceutical companies in Switzerland, China and India, far from the countries of origin. "It is now possible to transfer another step in the value chain to the emerging countries, where previously the plant was only grown and extracted," says Dr Kerry Gilmore, group leader of the Flow Chemistry Team.
Peter Seeberger highlights the benefits: "Our process is now considerably cheaper because we use all the resources from the plants. Firstly, we can convert the artemisinin gained from the extractors directly into drugs in the developing countries, and secondly we can also produce drugs from the waste. This means that a comparable volume of plant material now makes double the amount of the drug," he explains. "This enables us to strengthen the income of farmers in developing countries."
There is commercial interest in the technology around the world according to the scientists. As Peter Seeberger explains: "Currently we are in negotiations with various interested parties about an industrial plant in an emerging market that will be able to produce up to 20 tons of the active ingredient. Our goal is to reduce the price of anti-malarial medication with or without state or private funding."
To date, the costs of producing the drugs have been higher than the attainable sales price in Africa. The difference is paid by aid organisations and foundations such as the World Health Organisation or the Clinton Foundation.
The recent successes of the chemists and engineers from Berlin, Potsdam and Magdeburg were possible exclusively due to the contributions of the Max Planck Society, and were achieved without additional state or private support.
New possibilities for resource-saving production of high-quality biomolecules
Dr. Stefan Kubick (Picture: Fraunhofer IZI-BB)
The need for enzymes, complex peptides and proteins, or synthetic biomolecules in general is constantly increasing in food technology and the agricultural, cosmetics and detergent industries. Above all in the health sector, the adequate and cost-effective availability of high-quality synthetic material products is an essential foundation for further progress. Currently these substances are often produced using living cells or organisms. These systems are subject to considerable limitations, however, because a substantial material and energy input must be expended for the metabolism of the microorganisms or cell cultures themselves and this limits the efficiency of this approach. In addition, many metabolites and end products are toxic or have a toxic effect on cells in higher concentrations. This means that important substances can often not be produced at all or only in small quantities.
At the Golm site, extensive work has been carried out to establish this technology and to develop it further in the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (IZI), Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses branch (IZI-BB). Current research activities are particularly focused on the synthesis of membrane proteins and their functional characterisation – more than 50 per cent of all substances that have a pharmacological effect exert it by interacting with membrane proteins.
The enormous time saving is a key advantage of the cell-free system. Proteins can be synthesised in just 90 minutes, whereas the cell-based protein synthesis takes over 24 hours. Cell-free systems also have an "open" design, meaning that external components can be added to the system in order to have a targeted impact on the quality and quantity of the protein. In the lysates of eukaryotic cell-free systems, there are also defined membrane structures, called microsomes, which come from the membrane of the cell's own endoplasmic reticulum. They carry proteins that effectuate the directed placement of membrane proteins in the membrane (translocation). These membrane proteins embedded in lipid layers can, subsequent to their cell-free synthesis, be directly subjected to a functional analysis in order to identify new substances with pharmacological effects.
Honour for Potsdam physicist
Prof. Reimund Gerhard gives the renowned 2014 Whitehead Memorial Lecture
Prof. Reimund Gerhard (Picture: Karla Fritze)
Reimund Gerhard, Professor of Applied Condensed Matter Physics at the University of Potsdam, gave the 2014 Whitehead Memorial Lecture in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. This was the opening address of the annual international Conference on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena (CEIDP).
Since 1955, the Whitehead Memorial Lecture has been given at the CEIDP by scientists and engineers from all over the world, who are selected in a rigorous process with several stages. The series of lectures is named after John Boswell Whitehead, a pioneer of research into the dielectric properties of materials. The CEIDP was founded in 1920 and is still the leading international research conference in the field of dielectric materials and electrical insulators. Prof. Gerhard is the 60th lecturer.
Reimund Gerhard has been a professor at the University of Potsdam since 1994. From 2008 to 2012 he was the Dean of the Faculty of Science. Reimund Gerhard has been a guest researcher in the USA and China and has held visiting professorships in France, Brazil and Israel, among others. The physicist has received numerous awards and honours, including the ITG prize in 1988 (VDE Information Technology Society), a silver medal from the Werner von Siemens Ring Foundation in 1989, and the Berlin-Brandenburg Technology Transfer prize and the Adalbert Seifriz prize in 2001. Reimund Gerhard is a fellow of the American Physical Society (APS) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
Evonik launches Friedrich Bergius Lecture
Evonik Industries, one of the leading global specialty chemicals companies, has announced its first-ever Friedrich Bergius Lecture award. For 2014 it went to Professor Dr. Markus Antonietti, the director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam (Germany).
Dr. Klaus Engel and Professor Dr. Markus Antonietti (from left to right) (Picture: Evonik)
With the lecture, Evonik gives outstanding scientists the opportunity to speak on scientifically relevant issues. In his speech, Antonietti gave an overview of his research on colloid and interface chemicals to some two hundred scientists from well-known German universities as well as Evonik researchers.
Humboldt Research Award Winner Prof. Timothy Swager Guest at the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces
As part of the prestigious award, the respected chemist will make several research visits to the department for biomolecular systems under Prof. Peter H. Seeberger.
Prof. Timothy Swager (Photo: MIT)
The American chemist, materials researcher and internationally recognised expert in electronic polymers Prof. Timothy Swager has won the renowned Humboldt Research Award. The American-German collaboration is devoted to fundamental research in the field of developing highly sensitive detection methods for biomolecules in biological systems. Prof. Swager is John D. MacArthur Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Swager has developed, among other things, an extremely powerful sensor for detecting explosives that is used globally to detect landmines. For this work he has received numerous awards. today, for which he has been recognised several times.
The award is in recognition of all the winner's achievements to date, where their fundamental discoveries, insights or new theories have shaped the entire subject area.
Honorary professorship for Prof. Helmuth Möhwald
Prof. Helmuth Möwald, Emeritus Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, has been appointed honorary professor at the Institute of Process Engineering at the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He was also granted a Senior Visiting Professorship 2014 at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
ERC Starting Grant for Dr Jiayin Yuan
One of the renowned ERC Starting Grants from the European Research Council has come to the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam: Dr Jiayin Yuan, a group leader in the Colloids Chemistry Department (under direction of Prof. Antonietti), will receive around 1.5 million euros over a period of five years for his work on nanoporous gradient polymer membranes.
Traces of Potsdam in outer space
Recently it was "Lift off!" for a range of organisms that will spend at least 12 months on the outside of the International Space Station (ISS).
Two of the institutes at the Potsdam-Golm science park will be able to test samples from their latest research in outer space conditions. As part of the BIOMEX (Biology and Mars Experiment) project, the University of Potsdam and the Fraunhofer IZI-BB have got involved in space research.
International Space Station (ISS): The EXPOSE-R platform (circled in red) can be seen between the Swesda module and the solar panels. There the organisms are exposed to outer space conditions. (Picture: ESA)
A group of young scientists from the University of Potsdam, under the guidance of biology professor Jasmin Joshi, are working on the question of whether living creatures can adapt to these kinds of extreme environmental conditions, and could therefore also survive in extraterrestrial locations under certain circumstances. The Potsdam-based scientists contributed a moss that comes from the extreme environments of high alpine locations. Already subjected to high levels of genetic research, the common liverwort was packed into freight crates by both the Universities of Potsdam and Zurich. Dirk Wagner, Professor for Geomicrobiology and Geobiology is also excitedly waiting for the samples to come back: He sent methanogens archaea, archaebacteria, for the trip into outer space.
In addition, two strains from the Culture Collection of Cryophilic Algae (CCCryo) at the Fraunhofer IZI-BB are on their way into space. The cyanobacteria Nostoc sp., a blue-green algae from Antarctica, and the green algae Sphaerocystis sp. from Spitzbergen, Norway are also on board. "On top of fundamental scientific questions, like those we are investigating in the BIOMEX project, there is also the promise of new products for industry from these extremophilic organisms, which in our case often adapt well to low temperatures, increased radiation and dehydration stress. The focus is particularly on the cosmetics and food industries," says Dr Thomas Leya, who chose both strains from among the almost 400 isolates in the collection.
Moose samples (Photo: Björn Huwe)
All samples have been positioned on the outside of the ISS in the EXPOSE-R2 system and exposed to the conditions of outer space. The focus of the BIOMEX project is the organisms' ability to survive and any possible genetic changes that might occur. The project is part of the EXPOSE-R2 outer space experiment by the ESA in the International Space Station ISS. Dr Jean Pierre Paul de Vera from the Institute for Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) in Berlin Adlershof is leading the BIOMEX project. The scientist is also a lecturer at the University of Potsdam.
Early detection before infarction
Optical sensors for medical diagnosis and prevention made by the Golm Science Park.
Partners from the university, a start-up company and a non-university research institute at the science park are combining their expertise in the research and development project "Fibre-optic cell collector for diagnosing cardiovascular diseases". The state of Brandenburg, the Brandenburg Economic Development Board (ZAB) and the ILB investment bank are providing over 650,000 euros for this project. Cooperation partners are the Physical Chemistry Working Group (AGPC) and innoFSPEC at the University of Potsdam, GILUPI GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research (IAP).
Until now, early diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases was very difficult or simply not possible. The aim of the project "Fibre-optic cell collector for diagnosing cardiovascular diseases" is to develop a new optical method for early detection.
The scientists and technicians involved in the project are combining the existing cell collector made by GO:IN-based GILUPI GmbH with fibre-optic detection, thus laying the foundation for an innovative medical product. The new fibre-optic cell collector will enable unusual target cells that are circulating in the blood stream and are markers for cardiovascular diseases to be directly taken out of the patient's blood. The IAP and GILUPI will optimise the structure and functionality of the innovative optical fibre for the new application. An efficient evaluation of the collected target cells will be possible due to the link with fibre-optic detection, a core area of the AGPC and innoFSPEC. This should enable early detection of the disease before the first heart attack.
Schematic structure of the nanodetector
Ground-breaking ceremony for the new Fraunhofer conference centre
The ground-breaking ceremony for the new Fraunhofer conference centre took place at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park in September 2014. As the third expansion stage of the Fraunhofer IAP, the conference centre is another milestone in the development of the Golm Campus.
Brandenburg Science Minister Prof. Sabine Kunst and numerous guests from the world of politics, economics and research attended the ceremony. The conference centre, which will be used in the future by the Fraunhofer IAP and the Potsdam IZI-BB branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, will also be available for other events on the campus after its completion in 2016. This will further strengthen the visibility and development of the Golm Science Park and the cooperation of non-university institutes with the University of Potsdam.
With the dynamic growth of the Fraunhofer IAP, more space was also needed for internal events, for meetings of collaborative projects, and for national and international conferences organised by the Fraunhofer Institutes in Golm. The new conference centre can be built as part of the third construction stage of the Fraunhofer IAP by 2016 thanks to the financial commitment of the federal government, the state of Brandenburg and the Fraunhofer Society, which totals 3.6 million euros. The multifunctional building has divisible conference space totalling 275 m2 and also has a foyer of 120 m2 and technical side rooms of approx. 70 m2. It provides optimum conditions for scientific conferences and other events with up to 250 participants.
How it will look: the new Fraunhofer conference centre (Picture: Architekten Schmidt-Schicketanz und Partner GmbH)
Potsdam-Golm 2014 High-Tech Transfer Day
A particular advantage of the Potsdam-Golm Science Park is the close proximity of the university, non-university scientific institutes and the business incubator GO:IN. New products considered in research can quickly enter the market in the first phase through start-ups working in close contact with the scientific community. With attractive conditions on offer to young entrepreneurs, the aim is to create new and promising jobs in the federal state of Brandenburg. Has this plan been successful? Site manager Friedrich Winskowski offers his assessment.
(Photo: R. Glaser, UP)
For the third time, entrepreneurs, scientists and funding institutes met on 7 October 2014 for the High-Tech Transfer Day at the Potsdam-Golm science park. This year everything centred around three topics – internationalisation, financing and networking – and two clusters – health management and optics – all under the slogan "know-how connecting companies and science". The High-Tech Transfer Day naturally gives all participants the opportunity to meet new partners. The focus is making research from the region and its results available to companies that are based there, and transforming it into innovative and marketable products. The participants from the high-tech Potsdam-Golm site were delighted by the various presentations in the pitch forums and by the rather unusual format of speed networking. Here the participants were able to network in a very short space of time with potential customers and cooperation and networking partners using a format based on speed dating.
A new structure at the Fraunhofer Institute in Golm
Golm is home to the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology.
Research into bioanalytics and bioprocessing has been carried out at the Potsdam-Golm site for years. Up to 30 June 2014 this took place in the Golm part of the Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering (IBMT) with its headquarters in St Ingbert.
Strategic analyses by the executive board of the Fraunhofer Institute to improve the internal cooperation opportunities have led to a reorganisation within the Fraunhofer Institute. Since 1 July 2014, this research site is now a part of the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology with its headquarters in Leipzig and sites in Halle, Potsdam-Golm and Rostock. It will be known henceforth as the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (Fraunhofer IZI), Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses branch (Fraunhofer IZI-BB).
Management team of the Fraunhofer IZI-BB (Photo: Fraunhofer IZI-BB)
The Fraunhofer IZI will be run jointly by Prof. Frank Emmrich (managerial) and Prof. Ulrich Buller. The head of the Fraunhofer IZI-BB in Potsdam-Golm is Prof. Ulrich Buller, previously a member of the executive board of the Fraunhofer Society. The reorganisation has given the Fraunhofer IZI-BB greater independence. The connected additional new duties have been taken over by Katja Okulla as head of the "Strategy, Marketing and Administration" department. Scientific expertise is provided by the management team of Prof. Frank Bier (biosystems integration and automation), Dr Claus Duschl (cellular biotechnology), Dr Eva Ehrentreich-Förster (bioanalytics and biosensors) and Dr Stefan Kubick (cell-free bioproduction).
The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) on Multiscale Bio-Systems starts new application phase
From December 2014 interested students can apply for the three-year doctoral programme at http://imprs.mpikg.mpg.de. The application deadline is 31 January 2015.
Research focal points
"Multiscale bio-systems" at IMPRS deals with the hierarchical structure of biosystems at the nanometre and micrometre level. To provide a sense of scale: a nanometre is one billionth of a metre. Research deals with macromolecules in aqueous solutions, molecular recognition between these components, free energy transduction in molecular machines, or structure formation and transport in cells and tissues. Carbohydrates play an important role in molecular recognition on cell surfaces and have a potential interest in biomedical research as well. Proteins that self-assemble into molecular machines are responsible for transport phenomena in cells across mesoscopic and macroscopic distances. At the centre of all of these investigations is the question of how the processes are determined by the structure and dynamics of the molecular components in the range of a few nanometres up to many micrometres.
The interdisciplinary research activities at the school combine research on a highly topical project with training activities and workshops for further education and for the exchange of ideas and methods.
About half of the IMPRS doctoral students are selected from German applicants, with the other half coming to Potsdam from all over the world. The impact up to now has been outstanding: in the first two years of its existence, the IMPRS has received more than 800 applications. From these, 21 doctoral students were chosen through a highly structured process. More candidates can now apply until 31 January 2015, with six being selected by summer 2015.
University of Potsdam, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology (Fraunhofer IZI), Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses branch (IZI-BB)
Outstanding students' work wanted
The call for papers has gone out for the Dr. Hans Riegel awards in the MINT subjects.
The University of Potsdam and the Dr. Hans Riegel Foundation share a common aim: to inspire potential students in what are known as the MINT subjects: mathematics, informatics, natural science and technology. The goal of the "Dr. Hans Riegel-Fachpreise" is to discover talented pupils at schools and colleges and encourage them to take their studies further. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2015.
The University of Potsdam and the Dr. Hans Riegel Foundation rewards excellent project papers that were written as part of the Science Foundation seminar course in the subjects of biology, chemistry, geography, IT, mathematics and physics. The three best papers for each subject are awarded 600, 400 and 200 euros. The prize-giving ceremony takes place as part of the Leibniz-Kolleg in May 2015 at the University of Potsdam. Any students in the federal state of Brandenburg, Germany, who wrote a paper in one of the subjects in the school year 2014/2015 can enter. More information and the registration form can be found at www.uni-potsdam.de/mnfakul/Riegel-Preis.html.
21/01/2015 lecture theatre 02.25.F.1.01, 5.30 pm
Prof. Heiko Michael Möller, Institute of Chemistry "NMR Spectroscopy: Insights into the Structure and Dynamics of Biomolecular Interactions"
18/03/2015 lecture theatre 02.25.F.1.01, 5.30 pm
Prof. Helmut Schlaad, Institute of Chemistry, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, "Functional Synthetic Polymers of Amino Acids and Sugars"