Yearbook 2009

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The thymus is a primary lymphoid organ whose function is to provide mature and self-tolerant T lymphocytes required to fight infection and maintain tissue integrity. About 40 mutant zebrafish lines with aberrant thymus development have been established. The mutant genes so far identified show that the zebrafish model is an excellent tool to define novel genetic pathways important for T cell development. Live imaging analysis with these mutants and novel transgenic fish lines is used to examine the genetic basis of essential steps of thymopoiesis and to unravel their spatial and temporal characteristics. more
The immune system plays a central role for human health. Critically involved for its functioning is the activation of T-cells that relies on a complex intracellular signalling-network. To understand its behaviour, one has to study it in detail. Only then can one understand its dysfunction, as e.g. in case of tumors or infections, and develop novel drugs. Scientists at the MPI for Immune Biology have used biochemical and systemsbiology approaches to understand the function of the T-cell signalling-network. Of particular interest is the first element of the network, the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR-CD3) complex that recognizes foreign proteins. more
Malaria infects more than 300 million people and kills about 1 - 2 million children annually. Vector control programs and impregnated bednets limit the spread of malaria, but are not effective in eliminating the disease in Africa. Therefore, a vaccine is urgently needed. Since the pathogen constantly hides from the host immune system, scientists need to design innovative immunization strategies. more
Proteins are involved with many life processes in cells. The knowledge about their complex interplay on the molecular level provides important insights into diseases and cellular mechanisms. Currently, experimentally determined protein interactions are collected worldwide in databases. Therefore, bioinformaticians at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics developed an easy-to-use Internet-based system, which facilitates the global access to the data. Bioinformatics methods are also applied in detailed studies of protein interactions and their 3D structure and disease-relevant function. more
Data that exhibits a network or graph structure is ubiquitous, ranging from social networks on the internet to complex networks in life sciences. The combination of network structure within the data and an associated semantic imposes great challenges to searching and automatic reasoning. Our group therefore developed two system for managing large data graphs: RDF-3X, which aims for efficient query processing in classical data graphs, and URDF, which supports searching and reasoning under uncertainty. more
The geometrical confinement of liquid mixtures close to their critical point gives rise to so-called critical Casimir forces. They are due to local fluctuations in the concentration of the mixture, which diverge close to the critical point and thus lead to long-ranged effective interactions. Critical Casimir forces are characterized by a strong temperature dependence but also by a high sensitivity for the corresponding surface properties of the confining walls. This allows one not only to vary the amplitude but even to reverse the sign of critical Casimir forces. more
All living organisms adapt to mechanical forces by sophisticated mechanisms, with proteins being the major players. What are the design principles that enable proteins and biomaterials to respond to mechanical forces? Nature has come up with solutions handling a wide range of conditions, such as those in tensed muscle, flowing blood or stretched silk fibers. New approaches based on high-performance simulations increasingly help to reveal and engineer the force-carrying and force-sensing building blocks in these biological systems and materials. more
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