Embryo development, gene scissors and self-squeezing sponges:

The European Research Council funds three TU Dresden scientists with ERC Advanced Grants, the most highly-endowed individual grants on a European level. These are awarded for renowned scientists who break new ground in their respective area of research by conducting high-risk research. Biophysicist Prof. Stephan Gill, physician Prof. Frank Buchholz and chemist Prof. Stefan Kaskel are granted approximately EUR 7.3 million for their research. In the past, TUD has already been awarded four ERC Advanced Grants.

How growing organisms distinguish between left and right
Stephan Grill, Professor for Biophysics at the Biotechnology Center (BIOTEC) of TU Dresden, will be awarded an ERC Advanced Grant worth EUR 2.5 million for his research on “Chiral Morphogenesis”. The workgroup headed by Stephan Grill will investigate the physical mechanisms that enable a growing organism to distinguish between left and right, in order to place certain organs towards the left side and others towards the right side in a growing organism. To this end, the scientists conduct research on the muscle proteins actin and myosin and the physical mechanisms with which these proteins generate forces and torques in order to shape growing organs. “Revealing the mechanisms that give rise to left-right symmetry breaking in embryonic development is one of the great unanswered questions. The aim of this grant is to understand how cellular, tissue-scale and organismal left-right asymmetry arises from molecular interactions. For this purpose, we will combine physics and biology, and treat living systems as physical systems where chiral, and therefore left-right symmetric, forces drive chiral patterning and chiral structure formation in mechanically active biological matter”, Prof. Grill explains. Stephan Grill’s research group at BIOTEC is keen to understand the forces that allow an embryo to grow into a fully structured and formed organism. For this purpose, the group combines several disciplines, among them cell and developmental biology with biophysics and theoretical physics. In 2011, Stephan Grill received an ERC Starting Grant.

Efficient and safe genetic surgery
Frank Buchholz, Professor for Medical Systems Biology at the TU Dresden Faculty of Medicine Carl Gustav Carus is awarded an ERC Advanced Grant worth EUR 2.4 million for his research in the field of targeted genome surgery based on evolved site-specific recombinases. The team headed by Prof. Buchholz already succeeded in developing a designer recombinase (Brec1) that is capable of specifically removing the provirus from infected cells of most primary HIV-1 isolates found in humans. Now Frank Buchholz’ research is also focusing on various other diseases. “The generation of molecular scalpels, such as the Brec1 recombinase, will change medical practice. Not only HIV patients will likely benefit from this development, but presumably also many other patients. We are about to witness the beginning of the genome surgery era”, predicts the head of the Dresden research group, Prof. Frank Buchholz. In the funded “GenSurge” project, a “genome-editing platform” will be developed which allows efficient and safe DNA modifications without triggering cell intrinsic DNA repair.

Porous materials for new energy and environmental technologies
Stefan Kaskel, Professor for Inorganic Chemistry, is awarded the ERC Advanced Grant worth approximately EUR 2.4 million for his project “Understanding negative gas adsorption in highly porous networks for the design of pressure amplifying materials.” Porous materials play a key role in energy and environmental technologies such as gas and heat storage, hydrogen purification, batteries, air and water purification, energy conversion, catalysis and sensing. In 2016, the team headed by Kaskel discovered a new counter-intuitive phenomenon: A porous material named DUT-49 (DUT = Dresden University of Technology) that reacts upon an externally applied gas pressure by expelling molecules from inner voids, giving rise to an overall gas pressure amplification. The material may be regarded as a highly porous sponge, which upon reaching a certain degree of filling contracts autonomously in a self-squeezing manner to expel the charge loaded in the inner volume. Such materials may have tremendous implications for the design of threshold sensitive micropneumatic devices or stimuli responsive self-propelling systems. In order to enable a knowledge-based exploitation of pressure amplifying materials in the future, the ERC grant focuses on the fundamental understanding of the underlying thermodynamics and rational tuning of pressure amplifying porous materials. Prof. Kaskel feels honoured and motivated by this extraordinary recognition of his work: “The ERC Advanced Grant is an enormous motivation for me and my team, acknowledging in depth the fundamental understanding of new phenomena as a crucial rational basis for sustainable technological exploitation.”

Media Inquiries
Prof. Stephan Grill
Tel.: +49 (0) 351 463-40328,
E-Mail: stephan.grill@tu-dresden.de

Prof. Frank Buchholz
Tel.: +49 (0) 351 463-40277,
E-Mail: frank.buchholz@tu-dresden.de

Prof. Stefan Kaskel
Tel.: +49 (0) 351 463-34885
E-Mail: stefan.kaskel@chemie.tu-dresden.de

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