The German-Japanese Riken Max Planck Joint Research Centre for Systems Chemical Biology is taking shape

Kick-off symposium at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund from 5th to 7th March

March 08, 2012

In April 2011, both the Presidents of the Max Planck Society and Riken signed the establishing agreement. Less than a year later, a Japanese delegation of 35 scientists travelled to Dortmund to meet with renowned German and Japanese scientists working in Europe and discuss systems chemical biology during a two-day conference.

The principal partners of the new Riken Max Planck Joint Research Center are the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund, the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and the Riken Advanced Science Institute (ASI) in Wako, north of Tokyo.

The conference in Dortmund was the first opportunity for all members of the new Max Planck Center to exchange knowledge and experience of new methods and techniques. The Max Planck Vice President Martin Stratmann and Kohei Tamao, Director of Riken-ASI, opened the two-day symposium. The first secretary of the Japanese embassy to Germany, Satoshi Odoi, also attended the opening ceremony. In addition to intensifying scientific cooperation on an international level, the centre will above all provide exchange programs for students and scientists and involve the International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS). Particularly for IMPRS students, the new centre constitutes a platform of pooled outstanding expertise of a kind which would otherwise not be readily available to the students.

Extensive research in the area of systems chemical biology requires numerous new techniques which are normally not available within a single research organisation. Certain institutes have developed special expertise and techniques in particular fields of research, but still require partners who can offer complementary specialisation. The new Riken Max Planck Joint Research Center brings together three research institutes, each with their own departments of excellence in the area of chemical biology, and thus constitutes a new unit which will facilitate vast research activities.

The Japanese scientist Hiroyuki Osada from Riken-ASI and his team excel in isolating and identifying natural chemical compounds and applying them in chemical biology, and have constructed a proteomics platform with which it is possible to identify chemical targets of proteins.

Herbert Waldmann and his group from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology have created a library of approx. 10,000 compounds derived from and inspired by natural products. In the future, the number of substances, which will be studied in biological screening, will be increased to more than 100,000. The results could find application in medicine and thus greatly contribute to the development of entirely new and promising therapeutic approaches.

In the area of systems glycobiology, Peter Seeberger from the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces is studying the structure, synthesis and biology of saccharide chains that influence many kinds of biological processes. The aim is to gain a better understanding of diseases and new diagnostic and therapeutic agents, and to develop, for example, vaccines against malaria or hospital bugs.

To a certain extent, the work of Japanese scientist Naoyuki Taniguchi from Riken-ASI and that of Peter Seeberger complement each other. Taniguchi’s team specialises in the field of glycomics for treating diseases. The techniques developed by the Seeberger group are the key to applied medical research, which is one area that Taniguchi works in.

All the above scientists presented their current work in Dortmund. The plan for the future is to bring together all the scientists working at the Riken Max Planck Joint Research Center for Systems Chemical Biology once a year for a symposium taking place over several days in Germany or Japan.

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