Yearbook 2012

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Almost 10 years ago, the “Lily of the Valley phenomenon” was born: in the oviduct, sperm navigate ‒ like swimming olfactory neurons ‒ along an “odorant trail” laid by the egg. Scientists from the caesar research center in Bonn now discovered that sperm do not function like olfactory neurons. This finding casts doubts on the hypothesis that odorants orchestrate fertilization. more
Almost 10 years ago, the "Lily of the Valley phenomenon" was born: in the oviduct, sperm navigate - like swimming olfactory neurons - along an “odorant trail” laid by the egg. Scientists from the caesar research center in Bonn now discovered that sperm do not function like olfactory neurons. This finding casts doubts on the hypothesis that odorants orchestrate fertilization. more
During gastrulation in zebrafish, the enveloping cell layer (EVL) spreads over the yolk cell – almost like a woolen hat that you pull over your head. This movement is driven by a contractile ring of the proteins actin and myosin – so far, the ring was thought to function by circumferential contraction only, like a simple purse-string. Max Planck researchers now showed that the movement is instead driven by a flow-friction mechanism. This mechanism generates a pulling force through resistance against retrograde actomyosin flow – the actomyosin ring contracts also along its width. more
Since cell shape is ultimately defined by cellular mechanical properties and by the cell’s physical interactions with its environment, biophysical approaches are essential to understand cell shape control. Biologists, bio-informaticians and physicists investigate the molecular regulation of cellular mechanical properties, and the contribution of these properties to cell morphogenesis. more
Neurons are connected with each other by synapses where signaling is mediated by neurotransmitters. In the sender neuron, these transmitters are stored in synaptic vesicles and released by calcium-dependent exocytosis. A quantitative molecular model of a prototype synaptic vesicle has been established. Moreover, the structure of the SNARE-proteins responsible for exocytosis was solved. Reconstitution of the proteins in artificial membranes allowed for a refined understanding of their regulation by calcium and for an identification of intermediate steps in exocytotic membrane fusion. more
Tiny nano machines called macromolecular complexes participate in the most fundamental biological processes. The high-resolution three-dimensional (3D) structure of these complexes and their dynamic behavior can be studied by cryo electron microscopy. The molecular movies that can be obtained for these nano machines contribute tremendously to our understanding of molecular processes at a structural level. more
Large amounts of methane are produced in the biosphere and released into the atmosphere. The junior research group ORCAS at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry explores new sources of methane in the environment and describes the underlying formation mechanisms. Fungi are an important component of terrestrial biological communities. Just recently, the researchers showed that fungi also release methane in their metabolism. But it is still unknown to what extent this new source of methane contributes to the methane balance of terrestrial ecosystems. more
The biogenic emission of nitric oxide (NO) from natural and agriculturally managed soils of the terrestrial drylands is largely unknown, but of high importance for the local and regional air chemistry. The basic spatio-temporal scales of NO-emission ranges from a few cm2 to km2, and from some minutes to months. A full suite of experimental methods (laboratory incubation of soil samples to remote sensing) is applied to cover these scales for overlapping quantification of the unknown NO-emissions. more
Left-hemispheric stroke patients often suffer a profound loss of spontaneous speech – known as aphasia. Yet, many patients are still able to sing entire pieces of text fluently. Some clinicians have taken this as proof that singing may help speech production and speech recovery in aphasic patients. Recent research now offers a different answer: it may not be singing itself that aids speech production and speech recovery in aphasic patients, but rhythm and lyric type. These new insights may call previous assumptions on singing therapies into question. more
During face-to-face communication we integrate information from face and voice in order to recognize the identity of our conversational partner and understand the speech message. Novel research has shown that the brain integrates auditory and visual modalities much earlier than was previously thought. more
The comprehensive reform of banking regulation that was promised in the financial crisis has not been undertaken. Yet, society as a whole has an interest in using regulation to limit borrowing by banks. The determination of banks’ indebtedness and default risks cannot just be left to the banks and their creditors. The arguments that the industry puts forward against higher equity requirements are shown to be fundamentally flawed. more
Within any living organism sugars as part of many cellular building blocks regulate inter- and intra- cellular processes. To characterize glycosylation in full, computer models are becoming increasingly significant. The example of the Glycosylphosphatidylinositol anchor shows that classical structure analysis with molecular dynamics techniques must be combined with system representations at coarser levels. Only in this way, many unspecific but important functions of sugar residues may be uncovered. more
A knowledge of the structure and properties of bone is fundamental for the understanding and treatment of bone fractures and bone diseases such as osteoporosis. Methodologies from materials science have been shown to be useful in evaluating current therapies as well as in the development of new treatments for bone disease. Bone is a complex hierarchically structured material with remarkable mechanical properties, consisting principally of mineralized collagen fibrils. A better understanding of growth, structure and mechanics will help answer clinical needs in the future. more
An interdisciplinary research project headed by the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law is currently investigating the topic of “security” through several different research methods. First results show that respondents are worried about different areas of security on a personal and societal level. In addition to subjective-experienced feelings of security, the project also addresses statistical-objectified as well as media-discursive security, thereby opening up new possibilities of analysis. more
A new method allows gaining insights into the widespread network activity of the brain. The method combines electrophysiological recordings from multi-contact electrodes with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the entire brain. The methodology was applied to identify the brain areas that consistently increased or decreased their activity in relationship to hippocampal episodic memory related events, known as ripples. The findings provide new insights into the system mechanisms of memory consolidation, which can be studied in more detail in the future. more
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