Yearbook 2013

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The sense of vision is the most important sense for many animals and humans. The visual pigment rhodopsin is a key protein, it absorbs light which falls onto the visual cells in the retina. There has been a controversial discussion on the supra-molecular organisation of rhodopsin for many years. We have been able to clarify this controversy with the aid of electron tomography. Many illnesses which cause blindness can be traced back to mutations in the  rhodopsin gene and the resulting degeneration of the retina. Our findings can maybe contribute to explaining some causes of blindness. more
While ageing remains an inevitable fact of life, Max Planck researchers in Dresden discovered a microbe that stays forever young under favorable growth conditions by rejuvenating every time it reproduces. They looked at pedigree trees of yeast cells over several generations. The findings provide fundamental insights into the mechanisms of ageing and can also help to better understand cells that exhibit replicative immortality – like cancer cells. more
Animal populations thrive in environments with abundant food resources. While the link between population growth and food abundance is well established, much less is known about the influence of diet quality on fertility. This publication provides novel insights in this long-standing question by establishing a molecular link between dietary impact and the development of germ cells that are essential for reproduction. Moreover, the study identifies a nuclear receptor in the gut that protects germ cells against environmental influences and metabolites. more
In the last decade, magnetic resonance in the solid state (solid-state NMR) has emerged as a powerful technique in structural biology as it gives access to structural information for systems which are insoluble or do not crystallize easily. For example, functional filamentous assemblies such as the needle of the type three secretion system (T3SS) – composed of multiple copies of a single small protein – can be readily studied. more
The catalytic center of ribosomes is made up of ribonucleic acid (RNA). Catalysis is predominantly by orienting the substrates. The catalytic center is quite flexible; besides assembling amino acids to form proteins it catalyzes the hydrolytic liberation of the proteins after completion and accepts unnatural amino acids. This is utilized in Biotechnology for synthesizing proteins with particular properties. Peptide bond formation usually takes place spontaneously. However, linking several proline residues requires a special translation factor. more
Scientists of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz have investigated up to 2.70 m long giant spicules of the deep-sea glass sponge Monorhaphis chuni by new microanalytical techniques. They showed that the lifespan of these biogenic silica structures can be up to 13,000 years. Giant spicules therefore offer a unique opportunity to record changes of past oceanic and climatic conditions. more
Calculations using a global Earth chemistry model show that about 80 % of the population worldwide is exposed to fine particulate matter concentrations that are higher than the guideline concentration by the World Health Organization (10 µg/m3) and 35 % to more than 25 µg/m3 (EU Directive). Presently, gaseous and particulate air pollution causes about 3.4 million premature deaths per year. In the coming decades air pollution and related public health impacts are projected to increase particularly rapidly in South and East Asia and in the Middle East. more
In the course of child development one can observe an enormous wealth of significant changes in social behaviour. While initially selfish and impulsive behaviour may be dominant, prosociality increases with age. Until recently, the associated changes occurring in the brain were unknown. We now know, however, that the maturation of brain regions responsible for exerting behavioural control enables older children to do the right thing at the right time and override more immediate selfish impulses. more
Human perception is particularly flexible and allows us to recognize events as similar although they might occur in different contexts or situations. What are the mechanisms behind our flexibility in listening and perception? Two examples show how neural processes dynamically adjust to the acoustic environment and thereby provide the basis for flexibility of human perception. more
Individuals who disclose personal information often willingly accept an increase of social pressure. Monetary rewards from giving one’s consent to the disclosure of personal information can be interpreted as a compensation for the behavioral restraints resulting from increased social pressure. At the same time, only few people seem to care whether personal information is permanently stored. Only few people actually make use of a right to be forgotten, if they are not nudged to do so. more
Bioinspired poly(amino acid)s with stimuli-responsive properties and the ability to recognize and selectively bind to biological systems (proteins) are readily available in rather large quantities through optimized methods of synthetic polymer chemistry. Partially glucosylated polyglutamate and poly(N-alkyl glycine) may be used as “intelligent” polymers for applications in the biomedical field, for instance for therapeutic and regenerative medicine or diagnostics, as well as for the fabrication of hierarchical structures. more
Simple methods applicable in liquids enable the construction of surfaces with defined porosity. The processes also allow the incorporation of drugs into the surface and by suitable coating also the controlled release. This enables the design of the contact between the surface and adjacent cells. For perspective hard implant materials like Ti it is thus possible to stimulate the growth of osteoblasts, the dominant cells of bones. more

Magnetic resonance imaging at ultra-high fields

Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics Buckenmaier, Kai; Gunamony, Shajan; Chadzynski, Grzegorz; Hoffmann, Jens; Pohmann, Rolf; Scheffler, Klaus
To improve the spatial resolution and the speed for generating images in magnetic resonance examinations, there is a strong trend to go to higher magnetic field strengths in order to improve the detected signal, causing new technological challenges to emerge. An example is the development of new radiofrequency coil designs. First novel coils are already being used for clinical studies on cancer in the human brain at 9.4 Tesla. Magnetic resonance spectra were obtained from healthy and cancerous regions in the brain. The comparison of the spectra show great potential for medical diagnostics. more
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