veritas iustitia libertas Institute of Biology Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology Freie Universität Berlin - PDF

Freie Universität Berlin veritas iustitia libertas Institute of Biology Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology Contents Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology 6 Biology in Berlin 7 Structure

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Freie Universität Berlin veritas iustitia libertas Institute of Biology Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology Contents Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology 6 Biology in Berlin 7 Structure of the institute 8 From our research 11 Neurobiology Genetics Protozoa Chemical ecology Neuroanatomy Behavioural biology Extremophile red algae Molecular adaptation Molecular photo-physiology Cryoprotectin Metabolic paths Ecotoxicology Botanic Garden and Botanical Museum 25 Studying at the institute 26 Biology in brief 27 Where to find us 30 Impressum Published by The Presidency of the Freie Universität Berlin Press and Information Office Felicitas von Aretin Edited by Institute of Biology Catarina Pietschmann Translation: Richard Holmes December 2000 Typesetting & layout uni[:com] werbeagentur GmbH Printers VMK-Druckerei, Worms Illustration credits Institute of Biology Ω Depatment Ω Biology in Berlin Department of Biology-Chemistry-Pharmacology A second core area in which the department is becoming increasingly involved is bioinformatics. Here new bachelor and master s degrees are planned, and the department will contribute to the teaching, but it will also participate in research in this field. Handling large amounts of data is of major importance in both genome research and in neurosciences, and combining biology with computer science represents a major challenge that can only be met by interdisciplinary cooperation. Within the department itself there are plans to set up an interdisciplinary Bio-centre that will bring together all the life sciences, including the research groups in human and veterinary medicine. Biologists at the FU have long dreamt of a new building to house such a centre, but it has never been possible. Nevertheless, it remains a goal for the future of the Institute of Biology. Biology in Berlin Most scientific progress nowadays is the result of interdisciplinary cooperation. In order to promote cooperation and innovation in scientific research and teaching, the former Departments of Biology, Chemistry and Pharmacology merged into a single department in The leaner administrative structure in the new large department makes it possible to operate faster and more efficiently. In future, the department s research activities will be devoted to life sciences. Biology and biochemistry have already worked closely together in the past on collaborative research projects. Contacts between crystallography and biochemistry will be intensified under the heading of structural biochemistry. There are also synergy effects to be achieved between organic chemistry and microbiology which would provide new impulses, not only for the work in this field, but also for pharmacology. Die University biological research began in Berlin in 1810 with the foundation of the Friedrich-Wilhelm University. The beginning was made with chairs with zoological and botanical orientations. A century later, parts of the university were relocated to the Dahlem district - at that time still on the outskirts of the city. Various Kaiser Wilhelm Research Institutes and the state biological agencies were also set up here, along with a new botanic garden. At the same time, the Botanical Museum was also rehoused. A new building was erected specially for the Institute of Plant Physiology, which was led from 1910 to 1923 by Gottfried Haberlandt. Here he supervised the first cultivation tests In the new combined department it will be possible to concentrate on two core fields. One of these is research into transmitter substances and their receptor molecules. Transmitter substances are agents of communication within and between cells, and they are of crucial importance, for example, for the operation of the nervous system. In the new department, this field can be investigated comprehensively at the levels of molecules, systems, and the organism. 6 Freie Universität Berlin Biologie-Chemie-Pharmazie 7 Ω Biology in Berlin Ω Biology in Berlin on isolated plant cells and did work on phyto-hormones. Willy Kükenthal was active at the Zoological Institute from He is best known for his work on marine mammals, and also for a standard textbook on practical zoology - still in print in its 23rd edition. When the Freie Universität was founded in 1948, all the biologists moved together into the former Institute of Plant Physiology. Today the building is occupied by research groups for apidology, entomology, developmental biology, evolutionary biology, insect immunology and protozoology. The former residence of the director (fig: in 1914) is now the location of the applied zoology / animal ecology group. Many of the zoologists that came to the FU in its early years were representatives of systematic and phylogenetic evolutionary research, generally in the tradition of Franz Eilhard Schulze, who had been in charge of the Zoological Institute of the Friedrich-Wilhelm University from The Freie Universität in West Berlin saw itself as a legitimate successor to the old Berlin university, especially after the Zoological Institute of the Humboldt University in East Berlin formally ceased to exist in FU biologists were the first at a German university to establish a research group for ecology. Behavioural biology was also established as a sub-discipline at an early stage. Zoophysiology was expanded considerably - concentrating at first on metabolic physiology, and later also including neurobiology. A new branch of research was developed in plant physiology. The technique of plant cell culture established by Jakob Reinert in the 1960s made it possible for the first time to regenerate entire plants from single cells, and on the basis of this, the institute, which moved into a new building in 1971, established its international reputation. Plant systematics - which had been the responsibility of the Botanical Garden since was also given its own institute (Plant Geography and Systematic Botany). In the course of expansion, numerous areas of research were added, including biochemistry, human biology, cell ultrastructure, developmental biology, then applied (plant) genetics in 1972, and microbiology in The structure of the institute Today, the Institute of Biology is divided into a total of 28 groups carrying out research on the major biological topics of the 21st century. These include molecular biology and genetics with reference to biotechnology and genetic engineering, and the new field bringing together computer sciences and advances in the neurological sciences. In addition, the institute is also closely linked with the concept of evolution, and in this context with biodiversity. The investigation of ecosystems and in particular the effects of human activities on ecosystems are further aspects of the work. In detail, the research concentrates on the following eight areas: Ω Evolution, evolutionary biology, systematics in zoology; Ω Molecular developmental genetics of animals; Ω Molecular developmental biology/developmental genetics of plants; Ω Neurobiology and behavioural biology Ω Ecology, ecophysiology, and ecotoxicology; Ω Systematic botany, geobotany and the Botanic Garden: Ω Molecular plant physiology; Ω Microbiology. In recent years, neurobiology and molecular plant physiology have gained increasingly in profile. This is reflected in the fact that the Collaborative Research Centre (Sfb 515) Mechanisms of developmentaland experience-dependent plasticity in the nervous system and the postgraduate research group Signal cascades in living organisms are based at the Institute (neurobiology section). Research groups concentrating on molecular plant physiology are partof the DFG Collaborative Research Centre (Sfb 249) Molecular physiology, energetics and the regulation of metabolic processes in plants . The Botanic Garden, the largest in Germany, and the Botanical Museum (together called BGBM) have been integrated in the Free University since 1995 as a central facility. This has opened up unique research opportunities in the fields of botany and plant ecology, particularly relating to the geographic distribution of species. The four separate libraries have been combined, and since mid-2000 the central biological library is in the Botanical Museum. There is intensive cooperation with the adjacent Max-Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics, and also with the Max-Delbrück Centre, with which there are associated professorships in the fields of molecular developmental neurobiology and immunology. In addition, the Institute of Biology participates in the interdisciplinary research group on Structural biology . 8 Freie Universität Berlin Biologie-Chemie-Pharmazie 9 From our research Neurobiology: Bees never forget either! When animals learn, the connections between the neurones change and thus establish knowledge. This can then be used to improve the control of behaviour in the future. Among the thousands of tangled neurones, it is difficult to identify the specific ones involved in the learning process, since they cannot be observed directly during the formation of memory. It is therefore advisable to begin studying a relatively simple nervous system, but one which is nevertheless in a position to learn quickly and to form a stable long-term memory. In the Neurobiology research group we are therefore investigating such problems using the bee as our model. Bees can learn to recognise a chemical signal even after they have been prepared for the optical and electrical registration of their nerve functions. In this way, we can locate the site of memory formation and measure changes in the switching of neurones. This makes it possible, for example, to show that when a chemical signal has been learnt it leaves behind a precise neural representation in the brain. These traces of memory can be followed back in the bee brain to single identifiable neurones, which opens up the opportunity to track down the switching elements which with their adaptable patterns lay down the memory trace. Crocus bee A special feature of the memory is the way it develops over time. After the initial learning process, an unstable short-term memory is first formed, which is then transferred in stages over a period of hours and days into long-term memory. It has been found that these phases of memories are linked with the reactions of certain signalling molecules in the neurones involved. A key role is played by the protein kinases. Their activation leads initially to the functional alteration of existing molecules then later to the synthesis of new proteins - and finally to new structures. The memory content is not stored by special molecules, but is manifested by the spatial pattern of synaptic efficacies caused at the cellular level by these general molecules, the switching of the neurones. This principle of memory storage also applies for humans, so that the bee brain provides a suitable model for studying general mechanisms of memory formation. Antennal lobe of a bee's brain Biologie-Chemie-Pharmazie 11 Ω Research Domina' protein (red and yellow) Nerve cells (fruit fly) Genetics: What the fruit fly has in common with you Many of the important genes of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster are surprisingly similar in structure and function to human genes. In order to learn more about the way in which genes operate, it is possible to study Drosophila as a model using techniques from genetics and molecular biology, and then to draw conclusions about the importance of similar genes for human beings. In Developmental Genetics I a research group is studying the genes involved in the formation of chromatin - the structural material of chromosomes. A further project is working on genes that are active in the brain nerve cells of Drosophila, regulating the hormone levels. The DNA of eukaryotes is packed together with proteins in the chromatin of the chromosomes. Depending on the type and amount of the proteins, the chromatin influences the activity of the genes. Proteins involved in the formation of the chromatin can have other additional functions. We isolated a gene from the fruit fly, which we have named 'Domina', that also plays an important part in the development of the animal, in particular in the formation of the nervous system, the eyes, and the bristle structures. The 'Domina' gene codes for a regulatory protein of the same name that is linked to specific sites on the chromosome. (Fig. 1). This gene corresponds to the 'winged-helix nude' gene (whn) in humans, which plays a crucial role in the development of the immune system. The molecular function of the 'Domina' / whn factor is studied in transgenic Drosophilae. As in humans, many of the fundamental processes in the development and behaviour of insects are controlled by hormones. Hormone production, in turn, is influenced by signals from the brain - often in accordance with circadian rhythms. The molts of insect larvae and metamorphosis are the most striking effects of the steroid hormone ecdysone and juvenile hormone. Both are produced in the drosophila larva by the ring gland. Nerve cells have been identified in the brain of the larva that have a direct link to the cells producing the hormone (Fig. 2). Some of these cells have contacts to the insect's 'biological clock'. Various genes are being investigated that are active in these nerve cells. The work of Developmental Genetics II involves the investigation of genes in one of the target organs of the hormone ecdysone - the salivary glands of the Drosophila larva. These organs fulfil various functions in the course of development of the larva. At first, all the cells of the gland (Fig. 3, green) produce a digestive secretion. In the middle of the final larval stage this function is restricted to the anterior cells (Fig. 4, green) while the posterior section (Fig. 4, red) produce adhesive protein secretions. In the prepupal stage a third synthesis programme is initiated in all cells (Fig. 5, blue). The genes involved in this are being analysed in order to improve our understanding of the molecular processes behind the hormonally controlled reprogramming of differentiated cells. Protozoa: Small but essential Fig. 3 Fig. 4 Fig. 5 They might be very small indeed, but protozoa play a vital role in the ecosystem of our planet. These single-cell animals are found in the oceans, in freshwater habitats, and in all soil formations. Among other things, they regulate bacterial numbers by feeding on them. Another important role is that of commensalists in the stomachs of ruminants or in the gastrointestinal tract of certain insects. Here they make an important contribution towards the degradation of the cellulose in the food of their host. A more negative role is that of a highly dangerous pathogen, giving rise to illnesses such as sleeping sickness, malaria and coccidiosis. In humans suffering from AIDS, various opportunistic protozoa pose a considerable threat to the weakened immune system, and are often fatal. The research work of the protozoology group focuses on the nutrition of protozoa. How do these single-cell animals capture their food, and then ingest and digest it? An important objective is to identify underlying general principles. Another topic of interest is the ecological significance of certain protozoa, the minute nanoflagellates living in the sediment of aquatic habitats. In coopera- Vampyrella feeding on algal filaments Amoebe proteus 12 Freie Universität Berlin Biologie-Chemie-Pharmazie 13 Ω Research Amoebe proteus Chilodonella with ingested diatoms tion with groups in Great Britain, Israel and the USA we are also currently carrying out the first systematic international survey of the drifting of protozoa in ship's ballast water. Ocean-going ships take on vast quantities of water as ballast, which they then discharge long distances away. Protozoa 'kidnapped' in this way are often able to multiply in an uncontrolled fashion in their new environment. The symbiosis between protozoa and insects is being studied with the example of termites and flagellates. These two groups of organisms are directly dependent on each other: the termites cannot decompose the cellulose they ingest without the flagellates, which in turn can no longer live outside the bodies of the termites. In addition to research publications, the group has also produced standard text books on protozoology, as well as participating in numerous scientific film productions on topics relating to protozoology and cell biology. Exchanging information in nature: The chemistry of communication Communication is not only important for exchanges between humans in the information age, but is in fact vital to all organisms. Chemical signals offer a very sophisticated and widespread form of silent communication. The Applied Zoology /Animal ecology group is investigating communication systems in which natural substances are used to carry information. We concentrate on insects that feed on plants, which account for more than a quarter of all living species. They are often found as pests in forests and on farm crops. Knowledge about the communication signals of insects can be used, for example, to control harmful pests by disturbing their transmission. Comparative studies of the chemistry of signals and their biogenesis also provide insights into the evolution of communicating species. If we know the ecological and physiological conditions under which chemical signals are produced, perceived, and replied to, then we can draw conclusions about the phenotypic plasticity of genetically fixed communications strategies. The following example of sophisticated exchange of information between plants, feeding insects and their antagonists gives an idea of just how complex the communication systems can be. It has been known for some time that plants can respond to insect attacks by giving off volatile chemicals. These attract insects that prey on the pests or are their parasite. The change acts as an alarm signal. We were able to show that pests do not even have to begin feeding on the plant - laying eggs on the leaves is sufficient to cause an alteration in the patterns of chemicals the plant releases, attracting specialised egg parasitoids. However, these will only be attracted if the plant is carrying the right host eggs. Research is currently studying numerous aspects of the chemistry of the signals, the mechanism of signal induction, and the specificity of the system at the level of the plants, the herbivore insects, and the egg parasitoids. Chemical structures are analysed using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy. In order to detect the chemicals registered by the insect antenna, we combine gas chromatography with electro-antennography. In field studies and laboratory tests we study the behavioural response of insects to chemical signals. We cooperate with other laboratories to extend the scope of available chemical, electrophysiological and molecular biological methods. Neuroanatomy: The locust and its synapses A characteristic feature of animals is their mobility. But they would not be able to move very well at all if they did not get a wide range of feedback responses from their sensory organs. The Functional Neuroanatomy group studies such control processes. Animals are still superior to robots when it comes to crawling on branches or leaves, or climbing up rock faces. For our studies, we have chosen the simple nervous system of insects, which have a wide motor repertoire: they walk, run, climb, swim and fly. And for the fine control of all these movements they have a whole arsenal of sensory cells and neuromodulatory neurones. The latter can alter the efficiency of neuromuscular synaptic transmission and the African locusts 14 Freie Universität Berlin Biologie-Chemie-Pharmazie 15 Ω Research Ganglion with neurones Neurone in culture (3 days old) metabolism of the muscles. These mechani
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