On the way to becoming the world’s leading lipidomics centre

The new Indo-German Max Planck Center on Lipid Research

September 15, 2011

The second Max Planck Center in India was opened on 23 September 2011: the Indo-German Max Planck Center on Lipid Research. The Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the National Centre of Biological Sciences (NCBS) in Bangalore are responsible for this project.

"This is an occasion where two strong partners join forces – partners, who can achieve two goals: the generation of new insights in a research area with great forward-looking potential and the creation of optimal funding conditions for young scientists in both Germany and India," emphasises Max Planck President Peter Gruss.

The MPI-CBG in Dresden and the NCBS in Bangalore, both of which are key players in the setting up of the new Max Planck Center, have already been cooperating closely for a long time. The new Center is not solely the responsibility of the MPI-CBG and the NCBS: the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and the Institute of Life Sciences in Bhubaneswar are also involved in the research work. The researchers also rely on strong chemical-synthetic support. In addition to Max Planck institutes working successfully in the area of lipid chemistry, other bodies, such as Bangalore-based chemicals companies, are also involved.

Research focus of the new Max Planck Center on Lipid Research

One of the greatest challenges in modern biology is to consolidate the extensive knowledge that is available on individual molecules in a living organism into a coherent picture, in order to be able to understand how biological systems work. How do various processes occur in a cell? How do cells work together in individual organs, and how do the organs themselves work together in an organism?

Scientists today assume that lipidomics, as it is known, could develop very soon into a key tool in cell and developmental biology, molecular medicine and nutritional science. “We would like to analyse the complete inventory of lipids in various cells and organisms in order to be able to develop tools that can use lipidomics for biological systems analysis and for investigating and treating diseases,” explains Prof. Marino Zerial, Director at the MPI-CBG and one of the two managers responsible for the Center.

The German and Indian researchers have several objectives: a systematic analysis of all fat molecules in different organisms; the identification of biochemical paths for the production and removal of lipids; and the determination of the roles and tasks performed by certain lipids in the organisation and functioning of membranes in cell organelles, cells, tissue and the entire organism. The scientists expect that the decoding of the lipid inventory of an organism can still offer many surprises, such as the discovery of new lipid classes or types, which differ only at a molecular level.

During the Center’s start-up phase, which will extend over a five year period, a research group is to be set up in Dresden and Berlin. Its researchers will be involved in the biochemical and biophysical analysis of biological membranes and the genetic analysis of lipid metabolic processes in various animal model systems.

An established research group in Bangalore will also be included in the work and another new group will be established that will focus on lipid research. K. Vijay Raghavan, Director of the NCBS, will be responsible for scientific coordination of the project, and along with Prof. Zerial will be the second manager responsible for the new Max Planck Center on Lipid Research. The other scientific coordinators are Teymuras Kurzchalia on the Max Planck side and Satyajit Mayor on the Indian side.

Joint Faculty Meetings and Longer Stays of Faculty will be arranged to bring together the scientists from all the institutes involved. In addition, a conference on lipid research and its effects on the treatment of human disease will take place in the third year.

The Center is also designed to promote the mutual exchange of doctoral students and post docs. Regular monitoring of the research work will come under the remit of a Joint Scientific Advisory Board, set up by the MPI-CBG and the NCBS, which will evaluate the Center’s work every three years.


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