MaxPlanckResearch 1/2021

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Cooperation by Example
“Together against corona” is the motto for fighting the pandemic. At present, the best way of containing it is for everyone to keep their distance, wear a mask, and minimize contact with others. However, the temptation to make an exception in one’s own case is great. After all, it is enough if everyone else is following the rules – right? The more dependent we are on mutual cooperation, the more egotism threatens our common goals. Economist Matthias Sutter explains the circumstances in which people can nonetheless cooperate successfully.

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Asifa Akhtar: Gender Gap - Even in the Genome
Men and women possess different sex chromosomes. Nature, however, manages to reconcile this genetic gender gap. Asifa Akhtar, the Director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics in Freiburg, and her team are researching the sophisticated epigenetic mechanisms responsible for this process. As the Vice-President of the Biological and Medical Section in the Max Planck Society, she is also committed to reducing the gender gap in science.

Biology & Medicine

Viruses from Primeval Times
No life is free of viruses. On Earth, at least, no organism seems to be spared from them. Susanne Erdmann and her team at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen are studying viruses of the archaea, tiny single-celled organisms that lack a cell nucleus. Her research team investigates virus-like DNA elements, which may help us to explain how viruses actually originated.

Culture & Society

The Empire is back
The Habsburg Monarchy and the Ottoman Empire are long gone - but in many European cities, they are still very much alive. In Vienna, for example, remembrance of the times when the city was besieged by the Turks is fostered, while the tens of thousands of Viennese citizens of Turkish origin are ignored. At the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Goettingen, a team led by Jeremy F. Walton is studying the way in which former empires are treated today.

Materials & Technology

Nerve Scaffolding fro a Test Tube
Numbness, immobility and, in the worst case, paraplegia - the severing of a nerve pathway - often has permanent consequences. This is because the extracellular matrix, which provides support for the neurons, is also damaged during the injury. Tanja Weil and Christopher Synatschke, who work at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz, are looking for a replacement for this support material. And they have already made an important find.

Physik & Astronomy

Cells under Pressure
To date, medical science has shown little interest in how easily cells deform. As Jochen Guck, Director at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Light in Erlangen, and his team have discovered, this attitude is unjustified. As it turns out, the mechanical properties of cells can be used to diagnose cancer and possibly also inflammation. The scientists are currently testing the method together with University Hospital Erlangen - and have already gathered useful insights into COVID-19.
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