BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine (BIFTM)

Welcome to BIFTM (BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine)

The development of innovative approaches for controlling living systems represents a major challenge for biomedicine and biotechnology.

Strategies available today frequently lack the required specificity and efficacy. This stems from our inability to adequately control key functions of our own bodies, and to efficiently control living systems in artificial environments. In particular, novel “smart” drugs, cell based therapies and implants are required for successful therapeutic approaches for regenerative medicine. Furthermore, innovative strategies are required to prevent the formation of bacterial biofilms in clinical settings. Likewise, for biotechnology applications, innovative smart materials and devices are needed for the biomimetic culture of eukaryotic cells and to harness the properties of microbial biofilms. Therefore, the overarching challenge of the BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine programme (BIFTM) is to develop novel approaches and new technologies to control living systems. Given the complexity of these systems, an absolute prerequisite is a deeper understanding of the living systems from the whole organism down to the molecular level. This demands the development of powerful analytical technology.

This represents an inherently transdisciplinary challenge. BIFTM fosters an environment which promotes active and efficient collaboration between the required scientific disciplines. Researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) provide core expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, material sciences, micro- and nano-engineering, robotics and IT. Scientists from the Institute of Biomaterial Science in Teltow at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) contribute complementary expertise in polymer chemistry and biological evaluation, as well as clinical expertise through their strategic alliance with the Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT, jointly operated clinical translation centre of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and HZG/Teltow).

To attain its goals this programme focuses its activities on three interdependent areas:

  • The acquisition of basic biological knowledge and its translation to the development of novel approaches to control organ and tissue formation and regeneration (Topic 1, Biological Networks and Synthetic Regulators).
  • The development of third generation biotechnology for the control and manipulation of cells in artificial environments, specifically eukaryotic stem cells and bacterial biofilms (Topic 2, Cell Populations on Biofunctional Surfaces).
  • The development of innovative polymer-based materials for medical devices and their translation in regenerative medicine (Topic 3, Multifunctional Polymers and Regenerative Medicine).

Perspectives for Future Research

Perspectives for future research are described in a White Paper on the Biologization of Materials Research recently written by leading researchers of the BIFTM Programme at KIT.
Frontpage White Paper

White Paper on the Biologization of Materials Research (external link to


NMR probe (left) with miniaturized detector (right). In HiSCORE, such detectors will be combined with hyperpolarization to acquire binding processes of substance candidates. (Photos: Markus Breig, KIT) (Photos: Markus Breig, KIT)
Drug Screening at Far Higher Throughput

Processes Are Accelerated by a Factor of 10,000 – European Research Council Funds KIT Re-searchers and Partners Involved in the HiSCORE Project

Nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) is an important tool in drug research, since it can quantify and spatially resolve binding of drugs to pathogens. So far, however, NMR has lacked the sensitivity and throughput to scan large libraries of drug candidates. Within the “HiSCORE“ project, research teams of Professor Jan Gerrit Korvink and Dr. Benno Meier from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), in cooperation with partners from Paris and Nijmegen, will now develop a method for high-throughput screening (HTS). This project will be funded by a Synergy Grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC).

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In vivo images of growing artery (A, B) and confocal images of arterial blood flow and arterial endothelial actin cytoskeleton (C, D). Detailed caption at the end of the text. (Images: ZOO, KIT)(Images: ZOO, KIT)
Specific and Rapid Expansion of Blood Vessels

Nature Communications: KIT Researchers Identify a New Mechanism to Control Endothelial Cell Size and Arterial Caliber – Basis for Better Treatment of Heart Infarct and Stroke

Upon a heart infarct or stroke, rapid restoration of blood flow, and oxygen delivery to the hypo perfused regions is of eminent importance to prevent further damage to heart or brain. Arterial diameter is a critical determinant of blood flow conductance. Scientists of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now discovered a novel mechanism to structurally increase arterial diameter by selectively increasing the size of arterial endothelial cells, thereby allowing rapid increases in flow. The team has published their results in Nature Communications.

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Electron micrograph of the “empty” scaffold (without hydrogel) that an international research team used to deform individual cells. (Image: Marc Hippler, KIT)(Image: Marc Hippler, KIT)
“Stretching Rack” for Cells

An ingenious device, only a few micrometers in size, enables to study the reaction of individual biological cells to mechanical stress – publication in Science Advances

The behavior of cells is controlled by their environment. Besides biological factors or chemical substances, physical forces such as pressure or tension are also involved. Researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Heidelberg University developed a method that enables them to analyze the influence of external forces on individual cells. Using a 3D printing process, they produced micro-scaffolds, each of which has four pillars on which a cell is located. Triggered by an external signal, a hydrogel inside the scaffold swells and pushes the pillars apart, so that the cell must “stretch.” The work is part of the “3D Matter Made to Order” (3DMM2O) Cluster of Excellence. The researchers report on their results in Science Advances.

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Color change: The right microcylinder printed with the novel photoresist appears white, because light is scattered in its sponge-like structure, whereas the cylinder printed with conventional photoresist appears transparent. (Figure: 3DMM2O)(Figure: 3DMM2O)
Novel Photoresist Enables 3D Printing of Smallest Porous Structures

Researchers of the Cluster of Excellence 3D Matter Made to Order Expand Possibilities of Two-photon Microprinting

Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Heidelberg University have developed a photoresist for two-photon microprinting. It has now been used for the first time to produce three-dimensional polymer microstructures with cavities in the nanorange. In Advanced Materials, the scientists involved in the joint Cluster of Excellence 3D Matter Made to Order report how porosity can be controlled during printing and how this affects light scattering properties of the microstructures.

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The bacteria (green) are embedded in a composite made of carbon nanotubes (gray) and silica nanoparticles (violet) interwoven with DNA (blue). (Graphics: Niemeyer Lab, KIT)Niemeyer Lab, KIT
Microbial Cyborgs: Bacteria Supplying Power

KIT Scientists Develop Programmable, Biohybrid Material System that Uses Bacteria for Power Generation

Electronic devices are still made of lifeless materials. One day, however, “microbial cyborgs” might be used in fuel cells, biosensors, or bioreactors. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have created the necessary prerequisite by developing a programmable, biohybrid system consisting of a nanocomposite and the Shewanella oneidensis bacterium that produces electrons. The material serves as a scaffold for the bacteria and, at the same time, conducts the microbially produced current. The findings are reported in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (DOI 10.1021/acsami.9b22116).

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Bacteria cells (red) on a programmable composite of silica nanoparticles (yellow) and carbon nanotubes (blue). (Photo: Niemeyer-Lab, KIT)
Programmable Nests for Cells

KIT Researchers Develop Novel Composites of DNA, Silica Particles, and Carbon Nanotubes – Properties Can Be Tailored to Various Applications

Using DNA, smallest silica particles, and carbon nanotubes, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) developed novel programmable materials. These nanocomposites can be tailored to various applications and programmed to degrade quickly and gently. For medical applications, they can create environments in which human stem cells can settle down and develop further. Additionally, they are suited for the setup of biohybrid systems to produce power, for instance. The results are presented in Nature Communications and on the bioRxiv platform.

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Array of microdroplets with various reactants on the chemBIOS chip-based synthesis platform. (Photo: Maximilian Benz, KIT)
Turbo Chip for Drug Development

KIT Scientists Develop Process that Facilitates and Accelerates Chemical Synthesis and Biological Screening by Combining All Steps on a Chip

In spite of increasing demand, the number of newly developed drugs decreased continuously in the past decades. The search for new active substances, their production, characterization, and screening for biological effectiveness are very complex and costly. One of the reasons is that all three steps have been carried out separately so far. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now succeeded in combining these processes on a chip and, hence, facilitating and accelerating the procedures to produce promising substances. Thanks to miniaturization, also costs can be reduced significantly. The results are now published in Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/s41467-019-10685-0).

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Interdisciplinary research on 5,800 square meters: new building on KIT Campus North. (Figure: Heinle, Wischer und Partner, Free Architects) Figure: Heinle, Wischer und Partner, Free Architects
Biology Meets Chemistry: Roofing Ceremony for New Research Building

Construction of New Building for Interdisciplinary Research Will Be Completed in 2020

In 2020, the new building on Campus North of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) will serve as another bridge between chemistry and biology. Twelve research groups will work on the nearly 5,800 square meters. In addition, the building is planned to accommodate facilities for zebrafish, automatic screening, and chemical synthesis. Construction of the building is planned to be completed in early 2020.


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3D printing enables many big and very small applications: with special ink, bioscaffolds for cell tissue can be produced. (Photo: Martin Bastmeyer, KIT)
Materials Design in 3D: from the Molecule to the Macrostructure

“3D Matter Made to Order” Cluster of Excellence of KIT and Heidelberg University Starts and Focuses on Printed Three-dimensional Design Structures

Additive processes, such as 3D printing, can be used to produce nearly any structure, even in the nanoscale. Depending on the “ink” applied, the structures produced fulfill various functions: from hybrid optical chips to bioscaffolds for cell tissue. Within the Cluster of Excellence “3D Matter Made to Order,” researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Heidelberg plan to raise three-dimensional additive manufacture to the next level. The goal is to develop new technologies for flexible, digital printing of structures from the molecular to the macroscopic scale.   

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Sustainable joint use of data from many laboratories is the goal of the MoMaF Science Data Center. (Photo: Laila Tkotz/KIT)
Molecular and Materials Research: Sharing Data Easily

“Science Data Center for Molecular Materials Research” Develops Digitization Modules for Scientific Data – From Acquisition to Processing to Public Archiving

24 hours a day, the Internet offers direct access to the world’s knowledge. In this way, projects profit from the know-how of many bright minds and can be shared with interested persons. Especially researchers handling data strive for free information flow. Exchange of raw data produced in laboratories, however, is prevented by several obstacles. The “Science Data Center for Molecular Materials Research” of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) now plans to change this situation in cooperation with the Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences and FIZ Karlsruhe. For this, funds in the amount of EUR 2.5 million are granted by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research, and the Arts (MWK).


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The right material does the trick: The objects from the 3D printer are still movable even after printing and can be stimulated, for example, by a change in temperature.
Movable Microstructures from the Printer

KIT Researchers Develop a Method for Dynamic 3D Printing – Microstructures Can be Moved by Light and Temperature

Laser-based 3D printing can already be used today to produce any structure on a micrometer scale. However, for many applications, especially in biomedicine, it would be advantageous if the printed objects were not rigid but switchable. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now been able to print microstructures that change shape under the influence of temperature or light. The results were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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Biocatalyst: two different proteins self-assemble in a hydrogel, similar to a two-component adhesive. (Graphics: Theo Peschke, KIT)
Green Production of Chemicals for Industry

KIT Chemists Develop New Biocatalytic Material for “Green” Production of Value-added Chemicals – Publication in Angewandte Chemie

Industry consumes large quantities of crude oil to produce basic substances for drugs, cosmetics, plastics, or food. However, these processes consume a lot of energy and produce waste. Biological processes with enzymes are far more sustainable. The protein molecules can catalyze various chemical reactions without auxiliary materials or solvents being required. But they are expensive and, hence, have been economically unattractive so far. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now developed a new biomaterial that considerably facilitates the use of enzymes. The results are presented in the journal Angewandte Chemie (DOI: 201810331).

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Nanofibers with different directions of rotation. (Illustration: Kenneth Cheng, University of Michigan)
New Materials: Growing Polymer Pelts

Vapor Deposition of a Liquid Crystal Layer with Reactive Molecules Provides Customized Nanofibers for Different Applications – Publication in Science

Polymer pelts made of the finest of fibers are suitable for many different applications, from coatings that adhere well and are easy to remove to highly sensitive biological detectors. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) together with scientists in the United States have now developed a cost-effective process to allow customized polymer nanofibers to grow on a solid substrate through vapor deposition of a liquid crystal layer with reactive molecules. The researchers report on their innovative method in the journal Science. (DOI: 10.1126/science.aar8449)

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Scientists of KIT work on methods to remove pathogens from sewage processed in sewage treatment plants. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons/By Bin im Garten, CC BY-SA 3.0)
Removing Multi-resistant Bacteria from Sewage

Within the BMBF-funded HyReKA Project, KIT Studies the Spread of Antibiotics-resistant Bacteria and Develops Methods to Remove them from Water

According to the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, 700 to 800 t of antibiotics are consumed annually in the field of human medicine alone. Consumption in the area of veterinary medicine even totals about 1700 t. This high consumption of antibiotics, however, leads to an increasing amount of multi-resistant bacteria that aggravate medical treatment of a disease. Via the sewage system, the resistant pathogens enter the environment and eventually return into human organisms. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) study the spread of bacteria and assess measures for their efficient removal from process sewage, such as ultra-filtration, within the HyReKA joint project.

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The blind cave fish Phreatichthys andruzzii has been living beneath the Somali desert in water-filled crevices for many millions of years - completely isolated and in perfect darkness. (Foto: Andrea Margutti, University of Ferrara/Italy)
Did the ancestors of mammals live underground?

Rare cave fish Phreatichthys andruzzii gives clues – missing DNA repair system points to similar living conditions – Publication in Current Biology

The UV radiation contained in sunlight can damage cells and genetic material. Nature has therefore provided a set of repair systems, a particularly efficient one being controlled by light. It is an ancient system and has hardly changed in the course of evolution. All living organisms, from vertebrates and plants to unicellular organisms, fungi and bacteria have it. Only placental mammals, and thus also humans, lack this light-induced repair system. They protect themselves with a less efficient mechanism. Why, is still unclear to this day. KIT scientists have now been able to obtain more information in an international research project. The results were published in Current Biology (DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2018.08.039).

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Scanning electron microscopy: E. coli bacteria try to dock with a nanostructured model surface. (Photo: Patrick Doll, KIT)
High-tech Dentures: Fighting Bacteria with Nanotechnology

Inflammations of Dental Implants Cause Big Problems – Micro- and Nanotechnologies Reduce Bacteria – Researchers of KIT Optimize Dentures with Nanostructured Surfaces

Vasodilating stents, “labs-on-chips” for analysis on smallest areas, 3D cell culturing systems for tissue reconstruction: microtechnology is gaining importance in the medical sector. It also opens up new potentials in the area of implantology. Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), together with experts for dental implants, have now developed a nanostructured surface to accelerate wound healing after implantation and to better protect it against the attack of bacteria.

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Fluoropor coating on a copper thin film (Photo: Bastian E. Rapp, KIT)
Transparent Coatings for Everyday Applications

Fluoropor is a New Material That Repels Water and Resists Abrasion Due to a Continuous Nano/Microstructure – Presentation in Nature Scientific Reports

Water- and dirt-repellent sportswear and outdoor clothing, or anti-fog windshields – there are many everyday products that can profit from highly hydrophobic coatings. For such coatings, researchers led by Dr. Bastian E. Rapp at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have created Fluoropor, a material that is both transparent and abrasion-resistant and that consists of a fluorinated polymer foam with continuous nano/micro-structure. Fluoropor is presented in Nature Scientific Reports. (DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-15287-8)

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Vanessa Kappings working with the “vasQchip” that combines miniaturized organs and realistically replicated blood vessels. (Photo: Laila Tkotz, KIT)
Organs on Microchips for Safe Drug Testing

Vanessa Kappings of KIT Is Granted 2017 LUSH PRIZE Supporting Animal-free Testing in Research

Miniaturized organs on a chip enable drug tests prior to application to humans. At Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the team of Professor Ute Schepers has developed such an organ-on-a-chip system with accurately modeled blood vessels. In the category of “Young Researcher,” doctoral candidate Vanessa Kappings, who is involved in the further development of the “vasQchip,” has now been granted the 2017 LUSH PRIZE supporting animal-free testing in the amount of EUR 12,000 for her project.

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Receives a Starting Grant of the European Research Council: Dr. Cornelia Lee-Thedieck. (Photo: Markus Breig, KIT)
Bone Marrow Models to Study Blood and Musculoskeletal Disorders

Dr. Cornelia Lee-Thedieck Receives ERC Starting Grant of EUR 1.5 Million for Five Years

For her research on the development of hematological and musculoskeletal disorders, Dr. Cornelia Lee-Thedieck, scientist at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), is awarded an ERC Starting Grant: The European Research Council decided to fund her project “bloodANDbone” with EUR 1.5 million for five years. At KIT’s Institute of Functional Interfaces (IFG), Lee-Thedieck develops models of the human bone marrow to study the regeneration of blood and bone by stem cells and how this regeneration is disturbed in diseases like leukemia or bone metastases.

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Severely hyperbranched vascular network surrounding the spinal cord (red dotted box) of zebrafish embryo – blood vessels in white (Bild: le Noble/KIT)
Neurons Modulate the Growth of Blood Vessels

First Hampered, Then Released: Nerve cells regulate the density of blood vessel network dynamical-ly by fine modulation of signaling molecules

A team of researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) shake at the foundations of a dogma of cell biology. By detailed series of experiments, they proved that blood vessel growth is modulated by neurons and not, as assumed so far, through a control mechanism of the vessel cells among each other. The results are groundbreaking for research into and treatment of vascular diseases, tumors, and neurodegenerative diseases. The study will be published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

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Nanoparticles with the v6 peptide specifically bind to tumor cells. (Figure: Pavel Levkin / KIT)
Luminous Quantum Dots Track Cancer Cells

KIT Researchers Study the Potential of CD44v6-specific Peptides for the Diagnosis and Therapy of Pancreatic Cancer

The CD44v6 protein plays an important role in the metastatic spread of tumors. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now discovered a possibility to track CD44v6-expressing cancer cells using fluorescent nanocrystals with v6 peptides. They present their work in Advanced Science.

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A MOF membrane with integrated photoswitches separates molecules. The sepa-ration factor can be tuned dynamically by light irradiation.
Light Opens and Closes Windows in Membranes

Metal-organic Frameworks (MOFs) with Photoswitchable Azobenzene Molecules Enable Tunable Separation of Substance Mixtures – Publication in Nature Communications

Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Universität Hannover developed novel membranes, whose selectivity can be switched dynamically with the help of light. For this purpose, azobenzene molecules were integrated into membranes made of metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). Depending on the irradiation wavelength, these azobenzene units in the MOFs adopt a stretched or angular form. In this way, it is possible to dynamically adjust the permeability of the membrane and the separation factor of gases or liquids. The results are reported in Nature Communications.

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Fluorescent patterns with structures of up to 10 µm in size can be produced on surfaces by means of the new process. (Figure: Angewandte Chemie)
UV Light for Producing Customized Surfaces

Photodynamic Thiol-Disulfide Exchange or Temporarily and Spatially Limited Patterning - Publication in Angewandte Chemie

Scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have developed a new process to structure surfaces and to apply or detach functional molecules. They use UV light for the formation or breaking of so-called disulfide bridges, i.e. bonds of sulfur atoms. Both photodynamic reactions allow for a temporally and spatially controlled and reversible modification of the surface and, hence, can be used to produce functional interfaces. The process is reported in the journal Angewandte Chemie (applied chemistry).

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The microscopic fluorescence image reveals structures printed onto the biode-gradable coating for test purposes. (Photo: KIT)
Biodegradable Polymer Coating for Implants

For the First Time, Biodegradable Polymers Were Synthesized by Chemical Vapor Deposition/ Paper in Angewandte Chemie

Medical implants often carry surface substrates that release active substances or to which biomolecules or cells can adhere better. However, degradable gas-phase coatings for degradable implants, such as surgical suture materials or scaffolds for tissue culturing, have been lacking so far. In the journal Angewandte Chemie, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology now present a polymer coating that is degraded in the body together with its carrier.

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For the First Time, Light Is Used to Specifically Design Defined Molecule Chains / Publication in Nature Communications
Macromolecules: Light to Design Precision Polymers

For the First Time, Light Is Used to Specifically Design Defined Molecule Chains / Publication in Nature Communications

Chemists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have succeeded in specifically controlling the setup of precision polymers by light-induced chemical reactions. The new method allows for the precise, planned arrangement of the chain links, i.e. monomers, along polymer chains of standard length. The precisely structured macromolecules develop defined properties and may possibly be suited for use as storage systems of information or synthetic biomolecules. This novel synthesis reaction is now reported in open-access Nature Communications.

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Biologist Johannes Eberhard Reiner, KIT, with the reactors for microbial electro-synthesis
Microbes Produce Organic Plastics from Flue Gas and Electricity

BioElectroPlast: New Biocatalyst Uses Carbon Dioxide and Regenerative Power for Low-cost Microbial Electrosynthesis

Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are working on an efficient and inexpensive method for the production of organic plastics. In the “BioElectroPlast” project funded by the Federal Ministry of Research they use microorganisms that produce polyhydroxybutyric acid from flue gas, air, and renewable power. The optimized process of microbial electrosynthesis opens up further perspectives for the future production of biofuel or for the storage of power from regenerative sources in the form of chemical products, for instance.

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Schematic representation of a genetically modified protein of glycan structure
Construction Kit for Designer Proteins

KIT Scientists and International Partners Develop a Method to Produce on a Large Scale Complex Proteins for Pharmaceutical and Bioengineering Use

Proteins are among the most important constituents of any living organism and responsible for a multitude of tasks in biosystems: Similar to levers and gear wheels in machines, proteins control, initiate, and support biological activities and functions in the cell. In medicine, proteins are needed as antibodies in vaccine development. One of the biggest challenges today is to develop new vaccines against cancer diseases. Together with international partners, scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have now established a method to produce genetically modified proteins on a large scale. Rapid production of designer proteins might open up new applications in bioengineering and the pharmaceutical sector. Researchers present their approach in “Nature Methods.“   

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Three-dimensional microscaffolds for the cultivation of individual cells
Erwin Schrödinger Award for Specifically Designed Petri Dishes

Three KIT Scientists Receive Prize Worth EUR 50,000 for Their Interdisciplinary Research into Three-dimensional Cell Cultivation.

Three-dimensional printing is increasingly applied worldwide, like in toy and automotive industries. In micro- and nanoranges, use of the process for the artificial production of biological tissue (tissue engineering) might result in new findings, as it is the case for specifically designed 3D petri dishes. Three scientists of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) developed a method to produce flexible, three-dimensional microscaffolds for cultivating cells under suitable conditions and to conduct corresponding research. For this, they are now granted the Erwin Schrödinger Prize by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers.

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Scavenger cell removes the repair patch (Photo: Volker Middel / KIT)
Scavenger Cells Repair Muscle Fibers

New Findings Give Insight into the Cell Membrane Repair Process of Torn Muscle Fibers

Everybody knows the burning sensation in the legs when climbing down a steep slope for a long time. It is caused by microruptures in the cell membrane of our muscle fibers. These holes in the cell envelopes must be closed as soon as possible as otherwise muscle cells will die off. Researchers at KIT were able to observe this repair process using high-resolution real-time microscopy. It only takes a few seconds until proteins from the inside of the injured cell form a repair patch that finally closes the hole in the membrane. The researchers at KIT now demonstrated that scavenger cells moving around within the muscle virtually perform nano-surgery to remove this repair patch later and restore the normal cell membrane structure.

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Prostate cancer cells (green) in a superporous cryogel with tissue-like elasticity (Picture taken by Bettina Göppert/KIT using a scanning electron microscope)
Top Story for Cancer Research

Publication on Three-Dimensional Prostate Model Honored by “Prostate Cell News”

A team of researchers led by Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl and Professor Andrew C. B. Cato at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are developing a three-dimensional model for prostate cancer research based on cryogels. The model will be used to reproduce natural processes and above all to examine the development and the progression of tumors. A current paper on this project published in the scientific journal Small (DOI: 10.1002/smll.201600683) has been crowned top story of the week on “Prostate Cell News”, a major international platform and database for prostate cancer research.

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The GS-DProSw molecule in its inactive form (blue) can be activated by visible light (red) and “switched off” again by UV light.
Successful Laboratory Test of Photoswitchable Anti-tumor Agent

KIT Researchers Develop Oxygen-independent, Photoswitchable Molecule and Test It Successfully in the Lab for Its Effect against Tumors

Photoswitchable agents might reduce side effects of a chemotherapy. So far, photodynamic therapies have been dependent on oxygen in the tissue. But hardly any oxygen exists in malignant, rapidly growing tumors. A group of researchers of KIT and the University of Kiev has now developed a photo-switchable molecule as a basis of an oxygen-independent method. Their successful laboratory tests on tumors are reported in the journal “Angewandte Chemie” (Applied Chemistry).

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By means of the MOSAIC method, molecules can be arranged with high accuracy on a pegboard of 50 times 100 nm in size.
Unveiling the Grammar of Biological Cells

Chemists Develop MOSAIC Method to Decode not only Individual Cell Signals, but also Spatial Interactions of Various Signals

Cells in the body exchange a number of signals with their surroundings. Deficient signal pathways may adversely affect the function of cells and cause diseases. However, we hardly know more than the vocabulary of cellular language. It is unknown how the “words” are combined in “sentences”. If cell grammar was known, complex processes in cells might be understood. Researchers of KIT have now presented a method to decode the grammar of cell signals in the journal Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry).

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The Compounds Platform (ComPlat) archives substances and facilitates supply of reference material. The ComPlat equipment may be used by researchers free of charge.
Molecule Archive: Central Sample Bank for Research

Substances Developed for Research Are to Be Preserved for Science / KIT Establishes International Archive for Molecules and Active Substances

Usually, chemical compounds and active substances developed under a research project are disposed of in the end, although they are of high scientific value and might be further used. In the next three years, KIT will establish the “Compounds Platform” (ComPlat), a central archive to collect such substances and to make them available to scientists worldwide. This new infrastructural facility for research has now been approved of for funding as a core facility by DFG.

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Miniaturized eyeball: The model of a cyanobacterium shows how light is bundled at one point on its way through the cell.
Protozoa with Visual Capacity: How Bacteria “See”

KIT Scientists Have Solved a Big Mystery of Biology: Bacteria Can See and Move towards a Light Source, because They Function like Human Eyeballs

A 300-year old mystery of biology has been solved. A team of researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Portugal has found that cyanobacteria – microscopically small protozoa existing worldwide – use the functioning principle of the lens eye to perceive light and move towards it. The key to solving this mystery was an idea developed in Karlsruhe: Jan Gerrit Korvink, Professor at KIT and Head of the Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT), used silicon plates and UV light to measure the refraction index of the protozoa.

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The new Collaborative Research Center 1176 focuses on customized macromolecules with defined functions.
Specifically Controlling the Structure of Macromolecules

DFG Funds New Collaborative Research Center on ”Molecular Structuring of Soft Matter“

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has again acquired a Collaborative Research Center (SFB) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). SFB 1176 “Molekulare Strukturierung weicher Materie” (Molecular Structuring of Soft Matter) is coordinated by KIT. The Collaborative Research Center will develop new synthesis processes for long-chain molecules in order to characterize and construct them with so far unreached precision. This will result in an innovative leap in a number of material classes.

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Cells of a pancreatic tumor
Pancreatic Cancer: CD44 Protein induces Metastases

Peptides Might Help Fighting Pancreatic Tumors/Biologists Studied the CD44v6 Isoform and Discovered Peptides that Inhibit Metastatic Spreading

Due to their rapid metastatic spread, pancreatic tumors are among the most aggressive types of cancer. Only three to five percent of patients have a survival rate of five years. A team of KIT researchers has now established the basis for new therapeutic approaches. In the Gastroenterology journal they report that in various pancreatic cancer mouse models CD44v6-specific peptides do not only inhibit the spread of tumor cells, but may even lead to the regression of already existing metastases. (DOI 10.1053/j.gastro.2015.10.020).

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Pavel Levkin
Pavel Levkin Is Granted Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize

Highest Distinction in Germany for Young Researchers – Polymer Chemist Develops Novel Materials for Molecular Cell Biology

The chemist Dr. Pavel Levkin of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is granted the 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The prize is considered the highest distinction for young researchers in Germany. Scientific work of Pavel Levkin focuses on the investigation of cell-surface interactions, the development of biofunctional materials and super-water-repellent surfaces as well as on nanoparticles for specific medicine and gene transport. A major scientific success of Levkin was the synthesis of lipid-like molecules for gene modification of cells.

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Control of cellular differentiation: long extensions of cells (in blue) carry the second messenger Wnt (in red); contact points are shown in yellow (Picture: Eliana Stanganello and Steffen Scholpp)
How Cells Communicate

Research of the European Zebrafish Resource Center of KIT Provides Insight into the Development of the Central Nervous System of Vertebrates – Publication in Nature Communications

During embryonal development of vertebrates, signaling molecules inform each cell at which position it is located. In this way, the cell can develop its special structure and function. For the first time now, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have shown that these signaling molecules are transmitted in bundles via long filamentary cell projections. Studies of zebrafish of the scientists of the European Zebrafish Resource Center (EZRC) of KIT revealed how the transport of the signaling molecules influences signaling properties. A publication in the Nature Communications journal presents the results. 

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The Karlsruhe Exposure System is compact and can measure fine dust concentrations directly at the location of pollution. (Photo: VITROCELL Systems GmbH)
Easy Measurement of the Effect of Fine Dust

New Exposure System Determines Fine Dust Concentration in Lungs / Quick, Inexpensive, and Close-to-reality Replacement for Animal Experiments

Fine dusts from industry, traffic, and households are omnipresent. Still, they are difficult to capture by reliable medical measurements. KIT researchers have now developed an exposure system, by means of which biological cells are exposed to fine dust-loaded air flows in an exact and reproducible manner. Using this system, it is possible to collect data on the adverse impact of fine dusts of variable sources in a rapid and inexpensive manner and without animal experiments being needed. In cooperation with the industry partner Vitrocell, a marketable product has been developed.

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Award ceremony at the congress “Smart Cities”: VDE President Dr. Joachim Schneider and Professor Georg Bretthauer with VDE legal adviser Dr. Beate Mand. (Photo: VDE)
VDE Ring of Honor for Professor Georg Bretthauer

Association for Electrical, Electronic, and Information Technologies (VDE) Honors KIT Scientist for Research Relating to Measurement and Automation Technology

Professor Georg Bretthauer, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), receives the VDE Ring of Honor, the highest award granted for merits in research and development. The VDE honors Bretthauer’s extraordinary commitment to measurement and automation technology. At the KIT, the engineer and computer scientist among others developed an artificial accommodation system: Artificial lenses inserted in case of diseases, such as cataract, are to automatically focus objects at variable distances. The results are now incorporated in the current project on an intelligent contact lens.

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Company logo amcure
Preclinical Development of Tumor Therapeutic Agent Starts

KIT Spinoff amcure GmbH Receives EUR 5 Million for the Development of New Tumor Therapeutic Agents and Preclinical and Clinical Studies

There is an urgent need for medical agents to treat metastatic tumors. In case of pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive types of cancer that is often detected late, 95% of the patients die within five years after the diagnosis. The KIT spinoff amcure develops tumor therapeutic agents that might reduce this mortality rate. For preclinical and clinical tests of the agents, amcure has now received a total of EUR 5 million from investors. This will allow for the further development of these substances in the next years.

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The zebrafish is used as a model organism for research into the embryonic development of vertebrates.
Variable Gene Expression in Zebrafish

KIT Researchers Study the Expression of Genetic Information – Two Different Transcription Mechanisms Exist in Zebrafish – Publication in “Nature”

Early embryonic development of vertebrates is controlled by the genes and their “grammar”. Decoding this grammar might help understand the formation of abnormalities or cancer or develop new medical drugs. For the first time, it is now found by a study that various mechanisms of transcribing DNA into RNA exist during gene expression in the different development phases of zebrafish. This study is presented by KIT researchers in the journal “Nature”.

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First, an inactivated photo-switchable antibiotic was added to a bacterial lawn. Then, a mask was applied and the lawn was exposed to light for the specific activation of the antibiotic. (Photo: Babii et al., Angewandte Chemie, 2014)
Switching an Antibiotic on and off with Light

Fundamental Research at KIT Paves the Way to the Specific Therapy of Bacterial Infections

Scientists of the KIT and the University of Kiev have produced an antibiotic, whose biological activity can be controlled with light. Thanks to the robust diarylethene photoswitch, the antimicrobial effect of the peptide mimetic can be applied in a spatially and temporally specific manner. This might open up new options for the treatment of local infections, as side effects are reduced. The researchers present their photoactivable antibiotic with the new photomodule in a “Very Important Paper” of the journal “Angewandte Chemie”.

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The small, but highly complex particles contain chemically different segments.
Microparticles Show Molecules Their Way

Researchers Produce Three-dimensional Structures Using Three Chemically Different Patches

A team of researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Michigan / USA has produced novel microparticles, whose surface consists of three chemically different segments. These segments can be provided with different (bio-) molecules. Thanks to the specific spatial orientation of the attached molecules the microparticles are suited for innovative applications in medicine, biochemistry, and engineering. The researchers now report about their development in the journal "Angewandte Chemie". 

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Communication between man and machine – a fascinating area at the interface of chemistry, biomedicine, and engineering. (Figure: KIT/S. Giselbrecht, R. Meyer, B. Rapp)
The Cyborgs Era Has Started

Interfaces of Technical Devices with Organisms for Medical Applications – KIT Scientists Report in “Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed.”

Medical implants, complex interfaces between brain and machine or remotely controlled insects: Recent developments combining machines and organisms have great potentials, but also give rise to major ethical concerns. In their review entitled “Chemie der Cyborgs – zur Verknüpfung technischer Systeme mit Lebewesen” (The Chemistry of Cyborgs – Interfacing Technical Devices with Organisms), KIT scientists discuss the state of the art of research, opportunities, and risks. The review is published now by the renowned journal “Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed.” (DOI: 10.1002/ange.201307495).

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Scanning electron microscopy of stem cells (yellow / green) in a scaffold structure (blue) serving as a basis for the artificial bone marrow. (Photo: C. Lee-Thedieck/KIT)
KIT Researchers Develop Artificial Bone Marrow

Specific Reproduction of Hematopoietic Stem Cells outside of the Body Might Facilitate Therapy of Leukemia in a Few Years

Artificial bone marrow may be used to reproduce hematopoietic stem cells. A prototype has now been developed by scientists of KIT, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, and Tübingen University. The porous structure possesses essential properties of natural bone marrow and can be used for the reproduction of stem cells at the laboratory. This might facilitate the treatment of leukemia in a few years. The researchers are now presenting their work in the “Biomaterials” journal (DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials. 2013.10.038). 

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Schematic diagram of a metal-organic fraemwork
Polymer Coatings Based on Molecular Structures

KIT Researchers Developing a Novel Gel for Biological and Medical Applications

A novel method developed by researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Jacobs University Bremen enables manufacturing of polymer layers with tailor-made properties and multiple functions: a stable and porous gel (SURGEL) for biological and medical applications is obtained from a metal-organic framework (SURMOF) grown up on a substrate. The method is presented in the renowned Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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Flourescence microscopy of the novel "Petri Dish"
Precise Docking Sites for Cells

Specifically Designed Petri Dishes - Surfaces and Three-dimensional Scaffolds Are Modified Photochemically

The Petri dish is a classical biological laboratory device, but it is no ideal living environment for many types of cells. Studies lose validity, as cell behavior on a flat plastic surface differs from that in branched lung tissue, for example. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have now presented a method to make three-dimensional structures attractive or repellent for certain types of cells.

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Printable Biotechnology


Under the ”Molecular Interaction Engineering“ (MIE) Helmholtz Research Network, KIT Is Granted about EUR 3.5 Million for Five Years by the BMBF

Cells, biological circuits, and individual biomolecules organize themselves and interact with the environment. Use of these capabilities in flexible and economically efficient biotechnological production systems is in the focus of the “Molecular Interaction Engineering” (MIE) project. It is the objective to develop printed biological circuits and catalysts for biologico-technical hybrid systems. MIE will be funded with about EUR 3.5 million by the BMBF. 

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The STED-RICS microscope scans the fluorescent cell membrane with a light spot and, thus, an image is recorded. (Figure: P. N. Hedde/KIT)
Nature: Watching Molecule Movements in Live Cells

KIT Scientists Combine STED and RICS Microscopy Methods/Publication in Nature Communications

The newly developed STED-RICS microscopy method records rapid movements of molecules in live samples. By combining raster image correlation spectroscopy (RICS) with STED fluorescence microscopy, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) opened up new applications in medical research, e.g. analyzing the dynamics of cell membranes at high protein concentrations. This method is now presented in Nature Communications (doi: 10.1038/ncomms3093).

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Dr. Pavel Levkin (ITG, KIT)
KIT Acquires Two New EU ERC Starting Grants


Projects Focus on Capillary Suspensions and Microstructures for High-throughput Screening of Cells – EUR 1.5 Million Each for Five Years

Pavel Levkin receives ERC Starting Grant. His research group focuses on microstructures with hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties for the high-throughput screening of cells.


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Like the teeth of a zipper, the charged amino acids (red, blue) form connections between protein segments. In this way, they can form pores in the cell membrane. (Figure: KIT)
Cell: Protein Folding via Charge Zippers

Proteins in Cellular Membranes Use Charged Side Chains like the Teeth of a Zipper to Fold and Assemble with other Molecules

Membrane proteins are the “molecular machines” in biological cell envelopes. They control diverse processes, such as the transport of molecules across the lipid membrane, signal transduction, and photosynthesis. Their shape, i.e. folding of the molecules, plays a decisive role in the formation of, e.g., pores in the cell membrane. In the Cell magazine, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Cagliari are now reporting a novel charge zipper principle used by proteins to form functional units (DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.12.017).

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Structure of SURMOF 2 metal-organic frameworks: The pore size may reach up to three times three nanometers. (Figure: Dr. Jinxuan Liu, IFG)
Large Pores

KIT Researchers Develop New Method to Produce Metal-organic Frameworks

Researchers of the KIT Institute of Functional Interfaces (IFG), Jacobs University Bremen, and other institutions have developed a new method to produce metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). By means of the so-called liquid-phase epitaxy, the scientists succeeded in producing a new class of MOFs with a pore size never reached before. These frameworks open up interesting applications in medicine, optics, and photonics. The new class of MOFs, called “SURMOF 2”, is presented in the “Nature Scientific Reports” journal.

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Scanning electron microscopy: Hydrogel of high pore density may be the basis of a prostate model. (By: Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl, KIT)
Prostate Model for Cancer Research

KIT Project for Enhancing Understanding of Prostate Tumor – State Funding under the Program “Development of Alternative Methods to Avoid Animal Experiments”

Prostate cancer is the most frequent malignant tumor disease of males in the Western world. To better study the causes and development of this disease, Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), is developing a three-dimensional model of the prostate. Her work is aimed at modeling natural processes in the test tube (in vitro). In the long term, the in vitro model is to completely replace animal experiments in prostate cancer research. The state of Baden-Württemberg is funding the project with EUR 200,000. 

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Zebrafish are considered ideal model organisms for biomedical research. (Photo: Martin Lober)
Zebrafish – the Stars of Biomedicine

Many Findings Can Be Transferred to Humans – Opening of the First Zebrafish Resource Center in Europe and First Screening Center in the World on KIT Campus North

Zebrafish share most organ systems with humans. This makes them ideal model organisms to study the causes of human diseases like cancer or heart diseases. For this purpose, research needs a variety of zebrafish lines. With the European Zebrafish Resource Center (EZRC), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is now opening the first central repository for such lines in Europe. The EZRC is funded jointly by the BioInterfaces programme of the Helmholtz Association and the Klaus Tschira Foundation. The Klaus Tschira foundation provides a funding of 1.5 Million Euro over three years.

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Dr. Alexandra Matzke and Dr. Matthias Klaften with the awards handed over by Peter Hofelich, member of state parliament, and Dr. Tilman Schad, CEO of bwcon (from right to left). (Photo: bwcon)
Award to KIT Spinoff for Cancer Research


CyberOne Award to the amcure GmbH Startup for Novel Approaches to Treating Pancreas Cancer

Yesterday evening, amcure GmbH was granted the second prize of the CyberOne Award for the development of an active substance for the treatment of pancreas cancer and the Special Award of the state of Baden-Württemberg for the best research commercialization. amcure is a startup founded by three scientists of the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics and one employee of the Innovation Management Service Unit of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The CyberOne Award and the State Award are endowed with EUR 5000 each.

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Under green fluorescent light, cell structures, here microtubuli, can be observed in living fish embryos. (Figure: NIH, KIT)
Nature: Microscope Looks into Cells of Living Fish


Novel Method Resolves Cell Structures and Cell Motion of Living Animals / Resolution Is Doubled by Special Illumination, Computer Processing, and Sample Preparation

Microscopes provide valuable insights in the structure and dynamics of cells, in particular when the latter remain in their natural environment. However, this is very difficult especially for higher organisms. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, and the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) have now developed a new method to visualize cell structures of an eighth of a micrometer in size in living fish larvae. It is published in the Nature Methods magazine (DOI:10.1038/nmeth.2025).

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Repair of the plasma membrane of a cell: For the first time, researchers have observed the relevant repair mechanisms in zebrafish. (Photo: Institute of Toxicology and Genetics, KIT)
How Muscle Cells Seal Their Membranes

Researchers Hope to Contribute to the Development of Therapies for Human Myopathies

Every cell is enclosed by a thin double layer of lipids that separates the distinct internal environment of the cell from the extracellular space. Damage to this lipid bilayer, also referred to as plasma membrane, disturbs the cellular functions and may lead to the death of the cell. For example, downhill walking tears many little holes into the plasma membranes of the muscle cells in our legs. To prevent irreparable damage, muscle cells have efficient systems to seal these holes again. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Heidelberg University have succeeded for the first time in observing membrane repair in real-time in a living organism.

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Why Sweat Has an Antimicrobial Effect


JBC Paper: Impact of the DCD 1L Antimicrobial Peptide on Bacterial Membranes / KIT’s Physical Measurement Technology Supplies Data for Bioscience

The dermcidin peptide produced by human sweat glands acts like an antibiotic on the skin and fights infections. A team of researchers headed by Professor Birgit Schittek of the University of Tübingen, in cooperation with Professor Anne S. Ulrich from KIT, studied how exactly this works. The peptide forms ion channels in the bacterial membrane, which destroy the membrane potential. Today, the team published its results in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, JBC.

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