Public Release: 

Six new research units, one new humanities center for advanced studies

Topics range from mythology and neurodegeneration to multiparticle systems, Total of €16 million for first funding period

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

This news release is available in German.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is to set up six new Research Units and one new Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies. This was decided by the DFG Senate during its autumn session. The research collaborations will enable researchers to pursue current and pressing issues in their research areas and establish innovative work directions. Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies also incorporate a fellow programme. Funding is available to Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies for a maximum of two four-year periods, while Research Units can be funded for two periods of three years each. In the initial funding period, the seven new groups will receive approximately €16 million in total. As a result, the DFG will be funding a total of 175 Research Units and 15 Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies.

The new Research Units (in alphabetical order by host university)

Designing a new framework for the study of ancient myths, the Research Unit "Stratification Analysis of Mythical Materials and Texts in Antiquity" aims to develop a framework theory in order to re-analyse ancient myths with a sound systematic and comparative basis. The interdisciplinary research group will start from the premise that myths do not comprise a single text with a single narrative intention; rather, the millennia-old materials are 'layered stories'. Inhomogeneities, incompatibilities and inconsistencies all testify to the complex process by which myths are transmitted, changing over time as the result of changing interests, circumstances and interpretations. The researchers intend to make the individual layers of the historical narrative material, known as strata, tangible for the first time through stratification analysis.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Annette Zgoll, Host University: University of Göttingen)

The Research Unit "Plasticity versus Stability - Molecular Mechanisms of Synaptic Strength" is concerned with the ability of synapses to both be plastic, i.e. to change their structure and function, and to be stable, in order to sustain cognitive processes such as learning and remembering. The human brain - and therefore human behaviour - depends on experience, and remembering experience requires a stable connecting matrix. Using high-resolution imaging, the researchers aim to achieve a fundamental understanding of the stability and fluctuation of individual molecules in synapses, particularly over a longer time frame that is relevant to the capacity to remember. The Research Unit is made up of experts in molecular neurobiology, mouse genetics, neurophysiology and optogenetics.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Matthias Kneussel, Host University: University of Hamburg)

The neurological disease multiple sclerosis (MS) involves both neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative processes, but how the two contribute to the disease pattern of MS is not yet understood. The Research Unit "Calcium Homeostasis in Neuroinflammation and Neurodegeneration" will use calcium in its stable state in order to visualise and better understand the processes involved in the development and spread of the disease with the aid of imaging techniques. Calcium plays a complex role in signal transmission in cells; the team of basic and clinically oriented researchers from the fields of neurology, pharmacology and neurobiology intends to investigate factors that disrupt the calcium balance and the significance of an imbalance to MS. The group will use intravital microscopy, new animal models and the possibilities of genetic manipulation using the CRISPR/Cas system.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. med. Ricarda Diem, Host University: University of Heidelberg)

The Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies "Multiple Secularities - Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities" will investigate how the relationship between religion and other social functional areas can be described and explained. It is assumed that this relationship cannot be described in terms of a general trend towards secularisation, a withdrawal or a loss in importance of religion, but in all probability demands more complex explanations. The Research Unit will attempt to pursue this thesis through comparisons between different regions of the world and different historical epochs. The differentiation arrangements between religion and non-religion are subject to processes of conflict and sanction, in which the right of interpretation and claims for validity, for example between religion and state, are negotiated for practices, discourses and institutions. However, the Research Unit's thesis is that these boundaries are not an exclusive sign either of modernity or of the 'West', but were already in existence in premodern societies.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Monika Wohlrab-Sahr, Host University: University of Leipzig)

The Research Unit "Understanding Intramembrane Proteolysis" will investigate at molecular level how proteins in membranes are split into smaller polypeptides or amino acids (a process known as proteolysis). The enzymes responsible for this splitting are known as intramembrane proteases. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the Research Unit intends firstly to find out exactly which molecular target sequences the proteases aim for and secondly to identify new target proteins. The reason for posing these questions is that intramembrane proteases are involved in a number of important biological functions and are associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. An understanding of the interactions between molecular sequences and biological functions will be very important to future drug development.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Dieter Langosch, Host University: Technical University of Munich)

Messenger RNA, known as mRNA, allows individual DNA segments to be read in the cell nucleus and transmitted outside the nucleus as genetic information. Ribosomes then read the information from the messenger RNA and translate it into new proteins, which enable cellular processes to function. The Research Unit "Macromolecular Complexes in mRNA Localisation" will investigate how messenger RNA reaches its destination in order to form the necessary protein. Nerve cells, for example, form very long projections known as axons, which are distant from the cell nucleus. Macromolecular complexes form to transport the messenger RNA over what may be a long distance. Which of their components are responsible for ensuring that the mRNA is not translated into a protein before reaching its destination and which component controls movement towards the destination? The researchers will study these questions using models such as baker's yeast and fruit flies.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Dierk Niessing, Host University: University of Munich, LMU)

The extent to which physical material properties can be described in terms of the properties of their microscopic components is naturally limited by the capacity to actually calculate the microscopic parameters. Many aspects of solid bodies can already be described very well, but their calculation is mostly based on models where the interaction between electrons is only described in approximate, not exact terms. However, the methods used in the new Research Unit "Correlations in Integrable Quantum Many-Body Systems" make possible exact solutions of interacting multiparticle systems. This will provide data on statistical and dynamic correlation functions for standardised reference systems of any temperature, which is needed in various areas of experimental and theoretical physics.

(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Andreas Klümper, Host University: University of Wuppertal)

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Further Information

Media contact:

DFG Press and Public Relations, Tel. +49 228 885-2443, presse@dfg.de

Further information will be provided by the spokespersons of the established units.

For information on the Research Units and Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies refer also to: http://www.dfg.de/for/en

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