Bernd Bukau Receives ERC Advanced Grant

Press Release
Heidelberg, 7 April 2017

Bernd Bukau Receives ERC Advanced Grant
European Research Council awards approximately 2.1 million euros for project of Heidelberg molecular biologists

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded a highly endowed grant – an ERC Advanced Grant for leading researchers in Europe – to Heidelberg molecular biologist Prof. Dr Bernd Bukau. The five-year endowment will fund a research project in which the scientists will study the maturation of proteins in cells. The central question is how a cell can efficiently “fold” amino acid chains into functional proteins with a three-dimensional structure and assemble them to protein complexes. Prof. Bukau is director of the Centre for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH) and at the same time does research at the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ). Approximately 2.1 million euros are available to fund the research work, which will start in summer 2017.

In the ERC-supported research project “TransFold – Molecular Biology of Nascent Chains: Co-translational Folding and Assembly of Proteins in Eukaryotes” Prof. Bukau and his team are focusing on the process of protein folding. How does the unique three-dimensional structure arise for each protein and how do different proteins find each other to form functional protein complexes? “In our investigations with bacteria we have shown that the folding and assembly of proteins takes place during synthesis through ribosomes in translation, i.e. co-translationally. Here molecular chaperones play a major role, assisting and regulating this maturation process,” explains the Heidelberg molecular biologist.

Prof. Bukau’s group now wishes to find out how these processes work in eukaryotes – from yeast cells to human cells – and how they are regulated. “Here we expect fundamental differences compared to processes with bacteria, as eukaryotic cells are much more complex and encode different chaperones,” Bernd Bukau underlines. In the ERC-funded project the scientists will investigate their hypothesis, already supported by preliminary studies, that cells organise structures in which not only synthesis through ribosomes takes place but also the folding and assembly of protein complexes. Disturbances of these structures, e.g. as a result of stress, could, according to Prof. Bukau, lead to far-reaching disturbances in the cell and to diseases.

Bernd Bukau studied Biology at the universities of Besançon (France) and Konstanz, where he also took his doctorate. After a post-doc at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge (USA) he moved to the ZMBH for his habilitation. In 1997 the scientist accepted a chair in Biochemistry at the Medical Faculty of the University of Freiburg, then transferred to Heidelberg University in 2002 to take up a professorship at the ZMBH. Since 2005 he is the director of the ZMBH. There and at the DKFZ he investigates the mechanisms of cellular quality control in the interdisciplinary field of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. This involves the process by which proteins fold correctly as they arise and the repairing of defective proteins – an important precondition for their functioning within cells. In 1999 Prof. Bukau was awarded the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation for his research in this field.

The European Research Council awards the Advanced Grant to senior researchers pursuing high-risk, ground-breaking research in their respective fields.

Prof. Dr Bernd Bukau
Centre for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH)
Phone +49 6221 54-6795

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