Heidelberg, 3 August 2015 Know your cells The T-cells that help to track down and eliminate disease-causing microbes inside our body have to be able to distinguish between invaders and our own cells. In the thymus, they are trained not to react to markers produced by brain, muscle and other cells. The catch: the ‘trainers’ are all thymic cells. In a study published in Nature Immunology, the Steinmetz group and collaborators discovered that each thymic cell expresses extra genes that are selected in a coordinated fashion, and tend to be located close to each other in the genome.
Heidelberg, 28 July 2015 Union makes success With the goal of joining forces to further scientific and medical research, EMBL and the Medical Faculty of the University of Heidelberg have renewed the successful Molecular Medicine Partnership Unit (MMPU) agreement until 2025. The two complementary research institutions will continue to share data and resources, and together achieve scientific and medical breakthroughs that each individually may not have been able to make. “This kind of close collaboration really bridges the gap between basic and medical research and brings strong additional value to both institutions,” explains Matthias Hentze, Director of EMBL.
Heidelberg, 17 July 2015 Science of Spider-Man It all began with a familiar, spine-tingling refrain…“Spider Man, Spider Man, does whatever a spider can…” It punctuated the chatter of curious adolescents and the aromatic pop of cinema snacks, and transformed the EMBL Advanced Training Centre from a state-of-the-art conference venue into an atmospheric movie theatre, setting the scene for the Laboratory’s first ever Science Movie Night. EMBL PhD students Nade Abazova and Johanna Bischof lent their insight to scientific aspects of the Spider-Man (2002) film, revealing some of the secrets of the most famous spider bite in movie history to the eager ears of the local audience.
Heidelberg, 16 July 2015 Iron regulators join war on pathogens Proteins responsible for controlling levels of iron in the body also play an important role in combatting infection, according to a study published in Cell Host & Microbe. Humans – along with all living organisms, including pathogens – need iron to survive: invading organisms try to highjack it from their hosts in order to thrive and multiply. Matthias Hentze and international collaborators have now discovered that proteins responsible for helping the body maintain the correct levels of iron at a cellular level are also involved in helping to prevent this theft. These proteins form a system called IRP/IRE (iron regulatory protein/iron responsive element).
Heidelberg, 16 July 2015 Oskar’s structure revealed The structure of two parts of the Oskar protein, known to be essential for the development of reproductive cells, has been solved by researchers in the Ephrussi group in collaboration with the Müller lab. This advance – published in Cell Reports – has also enabled the team to gather the first insights into how this poorly understood protein functions. The research was carried out with fruit flies, but has implications for other animals, as many organisms, including humans, also have part of the Oskar protein.
General, 13 July 2015 EIPOD goes cubic Since its inception in 2007, the EMBL Interdisciplinary Postdocs (EIPOD) initiative has fostered interdisciplinary research projects each involving two or more research groups from across the Laboratory. As of July, EIPOD aptly becomes EI3POD, with the addition of two new dimensions: ‘inter-institutional’ and ‘inter-sectorial’, enabling collaborations with other research institutes and with industry. The EI3POD scheme maintains the strong basic research path while encouraging interdisciplinary research that reaches beyond institutional and academic borders.
Heidelberg, 10 July 2015 Cell machinery wears complex coat John Briggs and Svetlana Dodonova, in collaboration with Felix Wieland at the University of Heidelberg, have produced detailed images of the intricate protein-coats that surround trafficking vesicles – the “transport pods” that move material around within biological cells. The study, published today in Science, provides a new understanding of the complex machines that make up the cells’ logistics network.
Heidelberg, 9 July 2015 The genome in the cloud Since the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2001, technological advances have made sequencing genomes much easier, quicker and cheaper, fuelling an explosion in sequencing projects. Today, genomics is well into the era of ‘big data’, with genomics datasets often containing hundreds of terabytes (1014 bytes) of information. The rise of big genomic data offers many scientific opportunities, but also creates new problems, as Jan Korbel, Group Leader at EMBL Heidelberg, describes in a new commentary paper authored with an international team of scientists and published in Nature.
Grenoble, 9 July 2015 DNA protection, inch by inch DNA within reproductive cells is protected through a clever system of find and destroy: new research published in Cell Reports ifts the veil on how this is done. A European team of scientists – including Radha Raman Pandey and David Homolka from the Pillai lab at EMBL Grenoble – has discovered how the cells produce tiny pieces of RNA, called piRNA, that identify and silence ‘jumping genes’ or transposons: genes that are able to change their position within the genome and therefore alter or disrupt the genetic code.
Heidelberg, 9 July 2015 The germ of a network biologist “Interactions: that’s what I like the most in biology,” says Lukáš Janošík, turning his head from his laptop screen that displays a powerpoint full of graphs and microscopy images. He is 19, from Slovakia, and obtained the special prize in molecular and cellular biology at EUCYS 2014, a distinguished annual competition between hundreds of candidates from across Europe that earns the winner a week-long visit to EMBL. The award recognised his research on mitochondrial DNA stabilisation, which Janošík explains enthusiastically.