Research Initiatives

Inter-Institutional Research Initiatives

The growing interdisciplinary character of basic research necessitates that scientists and researchers at the Max Planck Society focus on new research goals that lie outside the walls of the institute. The advantages of acting jointly and coordinating work are a concentration of scientific expertise but also access to expensive research equipment such as research planes, radiation sources, research reactors, and even earth or satellite supported astronomical observation facilities. In 1999, the Max Planck Society launched a new program which is also open to partners from university departments and other research organizations provided they contribute to covering the costs. This new program is the Max Planck Society's reaction to the report from the International Commission on System Evaluation of the DFG and the MPS entitled Research Support in Germany.

Identification of Clinical Predictive Markers and Drug Development by Large Scale Translational Genomic Analysis of Lung Adenocarcinoma

Adenocarcinoma is the most common form of lung cancer and the most common cancer-related cause of death worldwide. With the new inter-institutional research initiative, which is part of the Clinical Lung Cancer Genome Project (CLCGP), the MPI for Neurological Research (Cologne) and the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried) aim to approach lung cancer systematically. As part of the project, it is intended to undertake the in-depth analytical characterisation of the genomes of 600 adenocarcinomas with a view to identifying new predicative and prognostic markers and therapeutic targets (Duration: 2009-2015)

Age-Related Changes in Human, Chimpanzee and Rhesus Macaque Brain Metabolism

The mystery surrounding the molecular processes that led to the evolution of human cognitive capacities, for example language and complex social behaviour, has not yet been solved. Along with other factors, changes in brain metabolism could have played an important role in the emergence of the new functions. Together with the MPI of Molecular Plant Physiology (Potsdam) and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig), scientists from the CAS-MPG Partner Institute for Computational Biology (PICB, Shanghai) are researching the molecular mechanisms behind human cognitive capacities and their development over the course of human history. The applicants have been awarded funding for the project from MPS central resources (two years starting in 2010).

The Oxinome: Redox Signalling Pathways in Innate Immunity

Protein oxidation appears to be an important mechanism for the regulation of protein functions, for example in homeostasis and disease. As part of an inter-institutional research initative of the MPI for Infection Biology (Berlin) and the MPI of Biochemistry (Munich), the applicants intend to identify all oxidised proteins based on the model cases of sepsis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a degenerative disease of the motor nervous system. All cellular targets of oxidation will be identified with the help of mass spectrometry. If it succeeds, this ambitious and risky project will reveal the relevance of protein oxidation for the first time. The project is funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of three years, beginning in 2011.

Conflicts of Laws in Intellectual Property

An institute and inter-institutional research initiative, which was authorised in 2005 and is being carried out by the MPI for Comparative and International Private Law (Hamburg), the former MPI for Intellectual Property and Competition Law (Munich) and the Universities of Nottingham, Panthéon-Assas, Chicago-Kent and Uppsala, concerns the interface between the protection of intellectual property and private law and the associated questions regarding civil and procedural law and antitrust law. To ensure the successful completion of the project in the form of a conference and the presentation of the associated CLIP principles and publication of the results in the form of a book, the funding period was extended by two years (2011-2012) with the granting of the necessary financial support from the Strategic Innovation Fund.

LCLS ASG Michigan Project

The Max Planck Society’s “Advanced Study Group” (ASG), which was created under the auspices of the Max Planck Institutes for Nuclear Physics and for Medical Research (both in Heidelberg), was established to explore the scientific potential of free electron lasers (FEL). As a Max Planck initiative, the ASG is a partner within the CFEL (Center for Free-Electron Laser Science) research platform in Hamburg, which is funded by DESY, the University of Hamburg and the Max Planck Society. As part of an inter-institutional research initiative entitled the “LCLS ASG Michigan Project”, together with the University of Stanford, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory (SLAC) and Western Michigan University, the MPI for Nuclear Physics (Heidelberg) and the MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics / MPI Semiconductor Laboratory (Garching) intend to develop the next generation of measuring chambers for the use of free electron lasers. Previous scientific successes in the field of ultra-fast quantum dynamics, nano-plasmas, cluster and solid-state physics were a crucial factor in the decision to provide funding for the project from the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of seven years, starting in 2011.

Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research: A Joint Initiative of the Max Planck Society and University College London

A research cooperation with a focus on cognitive ageing and psychopathology was launched with a view to promoting scientific exchange between the MPS and University College London (UCL) in the field of the behavioural sciences. Another aim of this initiative is the establishment of a joint research programme on the development and application of computing methods which should improve the understanding of age-related behaviour and mental illnesses. The research activities will be supplemented by a visiting and fellowship programme and by a student exchange programme. Funding for the implementation of the project is being provided to the MPI for Human Development (Berlin) by the Max Planck Foundation for an initial period of two years beginning in 2011

Towards an Atlas of the B Cell Repertoire

The production of antibodies by the b-lymphocytes is a feature of the adaptive immune system of higher organisms. A key element of the immune system’s protective effect here is the diversity of the B cell antigen receptor repertoire in conjunction with the expansion of antigen-specific B cells. The aim of the research project entitled “Towards an Atlas of the B Cell Repertoire”, which is being carried out by the MPI for Infection Biology (Berlin) and the MPI for Molecular Genetics (Berlin), is the representative measurement, characterisation and bioinformatic analysis of the diversity of the antigen-receptor repertoire on the level of the individual mouse cell. The data is intended to provide an atlas of the antibody repertoire, which will be published in the form of a database to be used in associated research activities. The project is being funded for a period of two years beginning in 2011 from the MPG’s earmarked private resources.

A Reverse Genetic Toolkit for Systematic Study of Function and Protein Localisation in Drosophila

Combined with the help provided by libraries of molecular reagents, the availability of complete genome sequences of model organisms enables the systematic study of gene functions in cell biology and cell development. The research initiative “A Reverse Genetic Toolkit for Systematic Study of Function and Protein Localization in Drosophila”, which has been proposed as a Max Planck Network and will be carried out by the MPI of Molecular Cellular Biology and Genetics (Dresden) and the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried), intends to create a comprehensive intergenomic resource for marked fosmid transgenes, in particular from Drosophila. From a research-strategy perspective, the project offers the possibility of participation in the global efforts under way in the area of functional genomics and of assuming a leading role in the associated data collection process. Funding from the Strategic Innovation Fund has been granted to the participating institutes for a period of three years starting in 2011.

The GRAS Data Collection: An Integrative Geno-Phenotype Approach to Identify the Genes and Biochemical Pathways Involved in the Etiology and Pathogenesis of Schizophrenia

One of the greatest challenges facing neuroscience is understanding the genetic basis of complex psychiatric diseases like schizophrenia. An inter-institutional research initiative entitled “The GRAS Data Collection”, which is being carried out by the MPI for Experimental Medicine and the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (both in Göttingen), aims to define the relative proportion of genetic polymorphisms in large cohorts of well-characterised schizophrenic patients with a view to describing the disease’s “endophenotypes”. The database produced by the project will be unique in the world and promises to enable a series of innovative developments. From the perspective of the scientists, the data will allow the definition of biological subgroups of schizophrenia, help in the decoding of factors that determine the progression of the disease, provide more information about the potential significance of gene variants in human biology and pave the way for further mechanistic studies using genetic mouse models. In addition, the patients involved in the study will be given comprehensive after-care, and the history of the emergence of their illness will be researched in detail. (Duration from 2009 to 2015)

Comparative Cognitive Anthropology: Comparing Cognition across Cultures and Species

The inter-institutional research initiative “Comparing Cognition across Cultures and Species” brings together the expertise of the MPI for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen, NL) and the MPI for Evolutionary Anthropology (Leipzig) for the first comparative study on the cognitive capacity of apes and humans from different cultures. The study will identify the cognitive capacities that are common to humans from different cultures and the cognitive capacities that distinguish humans from apes. The hypothesis, on which the study is based, is that human perception is far stronger in the social arena than on a material level. This inter-institutional research initiative is being carried out for a period of five years from 2008 with funding from the Strategic Innovation Fund.

Exploring Fungal Biodiversity

The topic of biodiversity is set to become more broadly established within the Max Planck Society through the inter-institutional research initiative “Fungal Biodiversity”. The project, which was applied for jointly by the MPI for Plant Breeding Research (Cologne) and the MPI for Terrestral Microbiology (Marburg), aims to make crucial advances in the areas of fungal biodiversity, phylogeny and development through the use of comparative and functional genome analyses. The scientists would like to assume a leading role in this field in the international context. The topic will be researched on the basis of two Independent Junior Research Groups in the participating Max Planck institutes. Due to the strategic importance of this inter-institutional research initiative for the Max Planck Society, it is being funded using resources from the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of five years.

Earth System Network of Integrated Modelling and Assessment (ENIGMA)

Funding for the remaining duration of the inter-institutional research initiative ENIGMA, which was originally authorised in January 2006, was released following the positive evaluation of the intermediate report on the project. With ENIGMA, the MPI for Biogeochemistry (Jena), the MPI for Chemistry (Mainz), and the MPI for Meteorology (Hamburg) are developing an integrated modelling approach for researching the earth system in cooperation with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK). The focus of the project is on the examination of the interaction between human activities, terrestrial ecosystems, oceans and the atmosphere.

MaxNetAging Research School

The virtual Max Planck Network MaxNetAging was extended in 2007 under the new leadership of the MPI for Demographic Research (Rostock). An important component of the network was the extensive involvement of junior scientists with a view to ensuring so that they could benefit from the intellectual environment and the contact with outstanding scientists from the network for their own research. The MaxNetAging Research School (MNARS), which has now been established against this background, will provide complementary and specific training for doctoral students in the area of ageing research while they write their doctoral theses and offer the desired interdisciplinary range. The project’s educational and scholarship programme funds a limited number of doctoral students and post-docs at the MPI for Demographic Research and other GSHS institutes which are involved in MaxNetAging. The network is funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of seven years. (Duration: 2009-2015)

Petawatt Field Synthesizer

The “Petawatt Field Synthesizer (PFS)” project, which is being carried out by the MPI of Quantum Optics (Garching) with the participation of university institutes in Germany and abroad, was authorised in September 2005. As part of this inter-institutional research initiative, it is intended to construct the world’s first compact petawatt light source in Garching. When it is completed, the PFS will open up completely new research options in the field of nuclear, molecular and laser science. Moreover, together with the free electron laser XFEL in Hamburg, the PFS will catapult Germany to the international forefront of the field of physics with light. In an interim review of the project carried out in early 2008, the research results attained were assessed as excellent, and funding was released from the Strategic Innovation fund for the remaining duration of the project.

Collective Phenomena in Solid-State and Material Physics

In order to promote cooperation and improve the networking between theory and experimentation, the MPI for Chemical Physics of Solids (Dresden) and the MPI for the Physics of Complex Systems (Dresden) have established a joint research group on the topic of “Collective Phenomena in Solid-State and Material Physics”. The scientists involved in the research group will focus their attention on the application of the extended dynamical mean field theory for heavy fermion systems. The project duration is five years.

Deep Sequencing of the Transcriptome of Two Marine Annelid Species for Neurobiological, Structural and Comparative Genomic Studies

Along with traditional genome sequencing and proteome analysis, the transcriptome – the entire cell-specific set of expressed mRNA and rRNA – is gaining in significance. As part of an inter-institutional research initiative, the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried) and the MPI for Developmental Biology (Tübingen) will sequence the transcriptome of two species of marine polychaetes (bristle worms belonging to the annelid class) on a large scale. One of the organisms to be studied is a model which is attracting increasing interest in the context of comparative and experimental neurobiology. The transcriptome of the other bristle worm species will be used for structural studies of large multiprotein complexes. In view of the importance of this sequencing data for research, this inter-institutional project is being funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of three years.

Molecular Structures Involved in Marine Microbial Carbon Cycling

The MPI for Marine Microbiology (Bremen) and the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried) are intensifying their cooperation in the field of environmental-structural-microbiology through the inter-institutional research initiative “Molecular Structures Involved in Marine Microbial Carbon Cycling”. The aim of the joint project is to describe the interaction of microorganisms with polymers in highly complex marine samples at an unprecedented level of detail. The cooperative venture is expected to provide a better understanding of the fundamental stages of the earth system’s central carbon cycle. The inter-institutional research project is funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund for an initial period of three years.

Max-Planck Chemical Genomics Center

The aim of the inter-institutional research initiative “Chemical Genomics Center”, which was launched in 2004, is to unite the competencies of the participating partners, i.e. the MPI for Molecular Physiology (Dortmund), the MPI for Plant Breeding Research (Cologne), the MPI of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden), the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried), the MPI of Psychiatry (Munich) and the MPI für Kohlenforschung (MPI for Coal Research), (Mühlheim, Ruhr), and to develop a systematic programme for the researching of biological phenomena with small molecules as modulating ligands. On the request of the leading institute (MPI of Molecular Physiology, Dortmund), the MPI for Molecular Biomedicine (Münster) has been adopted as a project partner for the remainder of the five-year project. Following an evaluation in early 2011, the project was authorised under the title “Chemical Genomics Center II” and will be continued for an initial period of five years through funding from MPS central resources.

Cryo-Electron Microscopy: From cells to molecules

Cells consist of numerous protein complexes and supramolecular structures of wide-ranging complexity. Some of these can be studied in isolation and using standard structural molecular biology methods. As opposed to this, others can only be examined in their cellular context. Cryo-electron microscopy in combination with suitable pattern identification processes is unique in the potential it offers for making the cellular proteome visible in situ. In contrast to conventional electron microscopy and its rougher sample preparation, with cryo-electron microscopy the risk of artefacts is avoided due to the sample preparation. As part of an inter-institutional research initiative between the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried) and the MPI of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden), innovative approaches are being pursued which aim to refine the processes of cryo-electron microscopy and to develop them into standard procedures. The Strategic Innovation Fund is providing two-year start-up funding for this inter-institutional initiative.

Microbial Corrosion of Iron

The bacterial corrosion of iron and steel is a problem that arises in industrial water systems and in the oil and gas industry, in particular. The existence of this phenomenon has been known about for years; however, it has not been correctly understood in microbiological or electrophysiological terms. As a result of a coincidental discovery, scientists from the MPI for Marine Microbiology (Bremen) became aware of previously unknown bacteria which play an important role in the biocorrosion of iron, and could provide new insights into the associated mechanisms. This discovery is being pursued further in the context of an inter-institutional research initiative being carried out by the MPI for Iron Research (Düsseldorf), the MPI for Molecular Genetics (Berlin) and the MPI for Marine Microbiology (Bremen). The participating Max Planck institutes have the necessary expertise to bring this interdisciplinary project to a successful conclusion. The project is being funded by Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of four years and seven months.

Max Planck Research Network Cognition (Maxnet Cognition)

Several institutes of the Max Planck Society already carry out cutting-edge research from different perspectives in the field of the cognitive and neurosciences. The newly-established inter-sectional research network, which is coordinated by the MPI for Psycholinguistics (Nijmegen), the MPI for Human Development (Berlin) and the MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain sciences (Leipzig), aims to promote the cooperation and coordination between the different network partners and to increase the Max Planck Society’s commitment to this field considerably. The network’s most important forms of cooperation include public forums on current research issues, jointly organised conferences and inter-institutional research projects. Maxnet Cognition has been established for an initial period of five years and is financed by the MPS President’s Strategic Innovation Fund.

Turbulent Transport, Plasma Heating, Particle Acceleration and Magnetic Reconnection in Heliophysical and Fusion Plasmas

High temperature plasmas play a central role in both solar physics and fusion research, and similar questions arise in both fields. The tasks to be resolved concern, among other things, plasma-heating, magnetic field-line reconnection and magnetohydrodynamic turbulence, which are crucially significant to the field of solar system research and in the area of fusion research. As part of an inter-institutional research initiative, the MPI for Solar System Research (Katlenburg-Lindau) and the MPI for Plasma Physics (Garching and Greifswald) aim to exploit the synergies arising from the cooperation for their basic research.

Toxic Protein Conformation and Ageing

Despite the wide-ranging causes of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, polyglutamine and prion diseases, protein folding errors and protein agglomerations are common features of these neurodegenerative disorders. Together with the University of Dresden, the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (Göttingen), the MPI of Molecular Physiology (Dortmund), the MPI of Biochemistry (Martinsried) and the Max Planck Unit for Structural Molecular Biology (Hamburg) are working on this topic as part of an inter-institutional research initiative. Based on the very latest procedures in the fields of high-resolution NMR and EPR spectroscopy, extremely varied biophysical methods and the expertise of the groups cooperating in this network, the project is investigating toxic protein diseases at molecular and cellular level. The project is being funded by Max Planck Society from its Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of four years from 2007.

Construction of Detector for the MIXS X-Ray Fluorescence Spectrometer on the BepiColombo Space Probe

The MIXS (Mercury Imaging X-ray Spectrometer) for measuring the chemical abundance on the surface of the planet Mercury has been proposed and accepted for the BepiColombo Mission to Mercury by the European Space Agency (EPA). Following the very successful Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and the Rosetta comet mission, this is the third journey to the solar system to be made by a detector from the Semi-Conductor Laboratory of the MPI for Physics (Munich) and the MPI for Extraterrestrial Physics (Garching). This detector, which is based on a previously tried-and-tested technology, is unique in the world and fulfils the stringent requirements of the BepiColombo Mission in relation to temperature, radiation hardness, energy range and resolution. Thanks to extensive preliminary work carried out by the Semi-Conductor Laboratory, the MPI for Solar System Research (Katlenburg-Lindau) will be in a position to develop new research possibilities with relatively little funding. The construction of the detector is being funded since 2008 as an inter-institutional research initiative by the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of three years.

The History of Quantum Mechanics

An inter-institutional research initiative is being carried out on the history of quantum mechanics at the MPI for the History of Science in Berlin and the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society. Together with scientists from the University of Pittsburgh, St. John’s College (Minnesota), Johns Hopkins University, the University of Utrecht and other international network partners, the two aforementioned Max Planck institutes are carrying out a project that aims to provide an in-depth understanding of the emergence and development of quantum mechanics. The project will be based on the detailed analysis of source material that will benefit from the special competencies of the participating physicists. This interdisciplinary project will run for a period of five years, and is being funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund.

Obesity and Ageing

This inter-institutional research initiative by the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry (Göttingen), MPI for Molecular Genetics (Berlin) and MPI of Molecular Plant Physiology will analyse the contribution of small molecules to the regulation of metabolic pathways and explain the link between obesity and ageing. One aim of the inter-institutional project is to map small molecules as the intermediate and end products of metabolomic processes, to correlate them with transcriptome / proteome analyses and to take different metabolic states of a model organism, in this case Drosophila melanogaster, into account. It is also planned to correlate different forms of nutrition and metabolic states with the longevity of the organism and thereby initiate a systems biology of the physiology. The project is being funded by the Strategic Innovation Fund for a period of five years.

 
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