Overview of Dioscuri Centres

Dioscuri Centres are innovative and internationally visible research groups led by outstanding scientists. Supported by partners from Germany, Dioscuri Centres are established at research institutions that offer an environment for cutting-edge research. Centres are funded for an initial five years with € 300,000 per annum and can be extended for a further five years after successful evaluation by external experts.


    Dioscuri Centre for Chromatin Biology and Epigenomics

    • Leader of the Dioscuri Centre: Dr. Aleksandra Pękowska
    • Partner from Germany: Prof. Dr. Martin Vingron, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics
    • Host Institution: Nencki Institute for Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences
    • Website: http://en.nencki.gov.pl/aleksandra-pekowska-lab

    At the Dioscuri Centre for Chromatin Biology and Epigenomics, Aleksandra Pękowska investigates the evolutionary and functional genomics of astrocytes – specific cells in nervous tissue.

    Astrocytes are the most abundant glial cell type in the central nervous system. They are fundamental for brain plasticity and participate in higher-level functions of the brain. Various neurological conditions, including Alzheimer's disease, feature aberrant activity of astrocytes, further highlighting their critical role in human biology. The dissection of the gene regulatory network underlying astrocyte identity will thus be instrumental for our understanding of brain functions in health and disease. Human astrocytes display unique features distinguishing them from their rodent counterparts. However, our knowledge of the molecular bases and the functional consequences of the inter-species differences in astrocyte biology remains limited.

    Dioscuri Centre for Chromatin Biology and Epigenomics uses high throughput sequencing-based methods of genome analysis, genome editing and computational tools to provide a better understanding of the molecular processes underlying the regulation of gene expression and the evolution of traits. Our principal aim is to unravel the genetic and epigenetic bases of astrocyte identity and to identify the evolutionary changes in the genome that underlie human-specific features of astrocytes. We combine RNA-seq, ChIP-seq, and Hi-C to measure gene activity, map cis-regulatory elements, and infer molecular networks governing astrocyte fate. We intersect phylogenomics with gene editing strategies to determine the functional implication of mutations in regulatory elements on gene expression. This approach will allow us to pinpoint the changes in the genome that result in the modification of astrocyte functions throughout evolution.


    Dioscuri Centre for Metabolic Diseases

    • Leader of the Dioscuri Centre: Dr. Grzegorz Sumara
    • Partner from Germany: Prof. Dr. Martin Eilers, Rudolf Virchow Center, University of Würzburg
    • Host Institution: Nencki Institute for Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences
    • Website: http://en.nencki.gov.pl/grzegorz-sumara-lab

    At the Dioscuri Centre for Metabolic Diseases, Grzegorz Sumara focuses on the elucidation of signaling pathways that play a role in metabolic diseases.

    Induction of uncontrolled lipolysis in adipocytes independently of nutritional demand of the organism is an event contributing to the development of multiple metabolic diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D) as well as cancer-associated cachexia (CAC). Multiple hormonal and nutritional inputs promote lipolysis. However, signaling events regulating the rate of lipolysis in adipocytes are not completely understood. Our preliminary data revealed an unexpectedly high number of kinases implicated in regulation of this process. Moreover, our results suggest that ubiquitin-proteasome-dependent signaling might be critically implicated in regulation of lipolysis. In the framework of this grant we are planning to investigate the regulation of lipolysis by different classes of signaling molecules and the impact of specific signaling modules on the development of obesity, T2D and CAC using combination of screening, proteomic as well as classical biochemical and mouse genetics techniques. Finally, we are planning to employ our findings for generation of novel precision medicine therapies to restore metabolic fitness of the organism affected by the major metabolic diseases.


    Dioscuri Centre in Topological Data Analysis

    • Leader of the Dioscuri Centre: Dr. Paweł Dłotko
    • Partner from Germany: Prof. Dr. Dmitry Feichtner-Kozlov, Institute of Algebra, Geometry, Topology and its Applications, University of Bremen
    • Host Institution: Institute of Mathematics, Polish Academy of Sciences
    • Website: https://dioscuri-tda.org/index.html

    The aim of this interdisciplinary research group is to develop and implement tools of Topological Data Analysis as well as to bring them to the various disciplinary communities. “We will find mathematically correct solutions to practical problems”, says Dłotko. “We will build new rigorous and explainable data shape descriptors in data science, analyse time series from cancer biology, climate research and economics, examine medical images of neurons, airways, spongy bone, and search for the best performing materials for CO2 capture and more“, adds the 35-year-old mathematician.

    There is an urgent need for explainable, provable and rigorous methods in science, engineering, data analysis and industry. Mathematics, geometry and topology in particular, have the potential to provide them. The aim of this interdisciplinary Dioscuri Centre in Topological Data Analysis is to discover, implement and bring those tools to the communities. Working in close collaboration with our Polish host institution and our partner from Germany, as well as with our partners in sciences, medical sciences, engineering and industry, we will conduct problem-driven research. We will find mathematically correct solutions to practical problems. We will build new rigorous and explainable data shape descriptors in data science, analyze time series from cancer biology, climate research and economics, analyze medical images of neurons, airways, spongy bone, and search for the best performing materials for CO2 capture and more. In addition to theoretical solutions, we will provide efficient implementations so they can be used as a tool by our partners.


    Dioscuri Centre for the Physics and Chemistry of Bacteria

    • Leader of the Dioscuri Centre: Dr. Bartłomiej Wacław
    • Partner from Germany: Prof. Dr. Arne Traulsen, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Plön
    • Host Institution: Institute of Physical Chemistry, Polish Academy of Sciences
    • Website: https://dioscuricentrebacteria.com/

    The Dioscuri Centre will use experiments, computer simulations and mathematical theory to create data driven, quantitative models of bacterial growth and evolution in complex environments: the interior of animal cells and animal secretions such as mucus. Research performed at the Centre will contribute towards the understanding of bacterial infections and the evolution of antimicrobial resistance in animal and human hosts. The theoretical physicist explains: “While the focus of the Centre will be on basic research in simple in vitro models, the long-term goal is the creation of quantitative, predictive models of bacterial infections that could be applied to develop new antimicrobial therapies.

    The members of the Dioscuri Centre for the Physics and Chemistry of Bacteria use experiments, computer simulations and mathematical theory to create data driven, quantitative models of bacterial growth and evolution in complex environments: the interior of animal cells and animal secretions such as mucus. Research performed in the Centre contributes towards the understanding of bacterial infections and the evolution of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in animal and human hosts. While the focus of the Centre is on basic research in simple in vitro models, the long-term goal is the creation of quantitative, predictive models of bacterial infections that could be applied to develop new antimicrobial therapies. To facilitate translation from the bench to the bedside, the Centre will develop collaborative projects with biological and biomedical researchers from other research institutions in Poland and beyond, and with industrial partners.


    Dioscuri Centre for RNA-Protein Interactions in Human Health and Diseases

    At the Dioscuri Centre for RNA-Protein Interactions in Human Health and Disease, Gracjan Michlewski will investigate the cellular roles and structural characteristics of novel RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) and RNA-protein interactions. The major focus of his and his team’s investigations will be on the RNA-protein interactions in innate immune response to RNA viruses including influenza, commonly known as the flu. “RNA viruses have already caused several epidemics in the 21st century; the emergence of a new influenza pandemic or a viral bioterrorism attack could have catastrophic consequences on public health and the world economy. Thus, a detailed molecular understanding of host-virus interactions is imperative in order to know how best to inactivate the virus and prevent major disruptions”, says Michlewski, who is also a Honorary Lecturer in Infection Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom. His partner from Germany is Juri Rappsilber from the Institute of Biotechnology at the Technische Universität Berlin. 

    RNA-binding proteins (RBPs) are key molecules that control gene expression signaling through RNA-protein interactions. Consequently, they contribute to cellular homeostasis, normal development and majority of human diseases. Importantly, new RBPs are being discovered by high-throughput proteomics, but we still have a limited understanding of their function. In the framework of this grant we are planning to investigate the cellular roles and structural characteristics of novel RBPs and RNA-protein interactions as well as their functional implications in innate immune response to influenza A virus (IAV) infection.

    RNA viruses have caused several epidemics in the 21st century. Taking IAV infection as an exemplar, it kills 250,000 to 500,000 people annually and generates a significant global socioeconomic burden ($20 billion dollars in every year in the US alone). Importantly the emergence of a new influenza pandemic or a viral bioterrorism attack could have catastrophic consequences on public health and world economy. Thus, a detailed molecular understanding of host-virus interactions is imperative in order to know how best to inactivate the virus and prevent major disruptions. Finally, viruses have been used to uncover some of the most important cellular processes such as mRNA splicing, capping, polyadenylation or RNA interference and they continue providing insights into molecular phenomena that can aid in understanding basic biology of living organisms.

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