Yearbook 2015

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Historical spaces can be reconstructed only as conveyed by their representations in various media. In addition to selected case studies reconstructing pre-modern spaces in southern Italy and Naples, a project at the Bibliotheca Hertziana particularly addresses historical spatial constructions themselves. Investigating the interplay of several media that construct space, the project traces the historical process through which the spaces were collectively perceived and defined. The aim is to develop a dynamic model of space that situates art historical objects in a more nuanced manner. more
Autophagy is a recycling system of the cell that prevents all kinds of cellular waste from accumulating. Autophagy sequesters such material in specialized containers, which are like other organelles of the cell surrounded by a flexible membrane. These containers transport their contents to cellular recycling stations for degradation. The researchers recently identified a specialized set of proteins that stabilize autophagic containers. Similar to recycling bins, these proteins form a stiff shell on top of the membrane to provide physical support. more
In spite of the great progress of the biosciences during the last decades, the very line of division between the animate and inanimate world still remains elusive. One of the most distinctive features of living systems is their compositional and organizational complexity, but how complex does life really have to be? Our research aims to identify a minimal set of fundamental features and governing principles of biological cells - being the smallest units of life - to enable their comprehensive biophysical, i.e., quantitative characterization by a defined set of parameters. more
Satellite measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) promise an improved understanding of the carbon cycle due to their higher spatial coverage. Measurements of atmospheric concentrations of CO­2 are interpreted with the help of inverse techniques in order to estimate fluxes between the surface and the atmosphere. However, fluxes derived using satellite measurements show significant systematic difference compared to those using surface-based measurements. These differences need to be understood in order to properly exploit this promising new data stream. more
Proteins are the workhorses of our cells. To fulfill their roles they need to adopt a functional conformation. Scientists have now experimentally determined how fast proteins are made and have shown that the correct speed is critical for functional folding. Perturbing translation leads to protein aggregates. This can cause severe developmental defects in mice. Their brain cells receive the wrong differentiation signal due to protein stress. These results answer a fundamental question of molecular biology and have far reaching consequences for neurodegenerative diseases and biotechnology. more
How complex but stereotyped tissues are formed, maintained and regenerated through local growth, differentiation and remodeling is a fundamental open question in biology. To answer this question we need to understand how single cell behaviors are coordinated on the population level and how population-level dynamics are coupled to tissue architecture. Uncovering these regulatory principles will further facilitate development of stem cell therapies and effective treatments to slow down ageing and prevent age-related diseases such as cancer. more
Molecular oxygen appeared in the atmosphere about three billion years ago. Nature developed two membrane integrated enzymatic systems which reduce oxygen to water and use the energy of this reaction to produce biologically important energy carriers. These enzymes are the haem-copper terminal oxidases, e.g. cytochrome c oxidase, and the bd oxidases. The atomic structures of representative members of both enzyme families were determined. These evolutionary unrelated enzymes apparently use the same mechanisms to conserve energy and to prevent the formation of toxic reactive oxygen species. more
The Laurent lab at the MPI for Brain Research works on deciphering rules of brain computation using simpler systems and model organisms for experimentation. Much of their interest is focused on cortical computation. The only non-mammalian animals with a layered cortex are the non-avian reptiles, and their cortex is much simpler as compared to mammals. Using turtles and lizards, the group of Gilles Laurent has undertaken a study of visual cortex, of cortical dynamics – travelling waves and oscillations – and of sleep. more
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