Biology & Medicine

MPI of Colloids and Interfaces: Inexpensive production of anti-malaria drug due to new synthesising method

Known anti-malaria drug synthesised with the help of oxygen and light should make it possible to produce the best anti-malaria drug, artemisinin, more economically and in sufficient volumes for all patients in the future.

Picture: François Lévesque from the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces: Max Planck scientists have discovered a very simple way of synthesising the artemisinin molecule, which is known as an anti-malaria drug from traditional Chinese medicine and has an extremely complex chemical structure. The discovery will pave the way for an inexpensive and large-scale production of artemisinin in the future. © Peter H. Seeberger

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MPI for Heart and Lung Research: Regenerating damaged heart muscle with silk

Scientits from the Max Planck Institute in Bad Nauheim use silk from the tasar silkworm as a scaffold for heart tissue: Damaged human heart muscle cannot be regenerated. Scar tissue grows in place of the damaged muscle cells. The scientists are seeking to restore complete cardiac function with the help of artificial cardiac tissue. They have succeeded in loading cardiac muscle cells onto a three-dimensional scaffold, created using the silk produced by a tropical silkworm.


Picture: Disks cut from the cocoon of the tasar silkworm grub provide a basic scaffold for heart muscle cells. The disks are around the same size as cent coins. © MPI for Heart and Lung Research
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Plant breeding: High yield maize

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology,  the University of Hohenheim and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research identified a genetic fingerprint which reveals new efficient maize cultivars. Their novel computer model predicts the ability of different maize lines to produce high-yield offspring.

The research group of Professor Melchinger harvesting leaf samples to test for metabolite composition.
© Christian Riedelsheimer
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MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences: Early signs for Alzheimer´s

Forgetfulness or emerging dementia? That question could now be answered in an early stage. Using modern imaging techniques scientists from Leipzig’s Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and Leipzig University have found a brain region which signals Alzheimer´s. This could facilitate improved predictions of the progress of dementia. Further studies are on the way.

Picture: A and B show the correlation of cognitive impairment in early dementia with sugar metabolism in the inferior frontal junction (IFJ; red). In healthy subjects, the control functions are located in the same region (C). Personality changes such as those that may occur in dementia are associated with other regions of the brain (D). © MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences

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MPI for Neurobiology: Method to see through tissue

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology have succeeded in making the spinal cord transparent. The new method is a breakthrough for regeneration research. It enables researchers to both examine nerve cells in intact tissue and portray it in all three dimensions. So they can see if these nerve cells recommence their growth after a spinal cord injury – an essential prerequisite for future research like for searching new ways to stimulate these cells to resume their growth.

Picture: A spinal cord as if made of glass – The new method enables scientists to see nerve cell in the intact cellular network.
© MPI of Neurobiology / Ertürk
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SWEET: New protein for increased harvest yield discovered

Plants must supply their various tissues with the carbohydrates they produce through photosynthesis in the leaves. However, they do not have a muscular pump like the human heart to help transport this vital fuel. Instead, they use pump proteins in their cell membranes for this purpose. Researchers from the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the Carnegie Institution for Science in California have now identified a new protein, which plays an important role within the plants transport system and which transports sucrose to the plant’s vascular pathways. So now the scientists can regulate these molecular pumps precisely and thereby increase the transport of sucrose to the plant seeds. The discovery could be the basis for increased crop yields and better protection against pest.

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MPI for Heart and Lung Research: Gene for blood pressure regulation discovered – possible approach to treating hypertension

More than one billion people suffer from hypertension, also called high blood pressure. With this condition the heart has to work harder than it should to pump the blood around the body. Moreover,  high blood pressure can cause a stroke, myocardial infarction, heart failure, etc. an can even lead to chronic kidney failure. Even a moderate elevation of the blood pressure can lead to shortened life expectancy. Reasons for that? Hypertension is attributed to a high salt intake and a genetic predisposition. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim  have now discovered that even a normal salt intake can cause hypertension in people suffering from a sodium dysregulation. Furtermore, they have managed to identify the responsible gene: SLC4A5. The scientists could thus have found a new approach to treating hypertension more effectively and are now looking closer at the gene SLC4A5.

Microscopic cross section of a kidney. The image shows the organs filtration tubes, the so-called tubuli. The cell walls of the tubuli contain proteins, which are active as water transporter (green) and sodium transporters (red). The cell nuclei are highlighted in blue. © MPI for Heart and Lung Research.
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MPI for Neurological Research: New findings could improve regeneration after stroke

A stroke leads to the loss of brain functions due to a lack of blood in the brain. Reasons can be ischemia, a lack of blood flow due to e.g. thrombosis, or leakage of blood. The loss of brain function often results in the inability to move the limbs on one side of the body. Also the thinking power or speech can be affected in a negative way. Now researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Neurological Research and the Department of Neurology at the University Hospital of Cologne found out that not only cell death in the actual stroke area plays a role in the inability of stroke patients to fully regain their original motor capacities. Moreover, the regeneration after a stroke requires intact communication channels between the two halves of the brain. The team is currently examining whether they can regenerate the communication between the brain hemispheres through early and regular stimulation treatment. The long-term aim is to improve motor deficits in stroke patients.

Picture: Stroke damage (white circle) can destroy the communication channels within the brain. This depiction of stretches of fibres show that the damage can also affect fibres between the hemispheres (red) which whither in the course of the illness, thus hindering the exchange of information between the hemispheres. © MPI for Neurological Research.


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MPI for Heart and Lung Research: Possible way to self healing hearts after heart damage

Heart attacks damage the muscles of the heart and can even cause death in severe cases.  However, the human body is able to reverse this process after e.g. myocardial infarction and cardiomyopathy and thus can repair heart muscle cells to a certrain extent. Now researchers  from the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim and the Schüchtermann Klinik in Bad Rothenfelde found out what actually stimualtes this process: A protein called oncostatin M plays a central role in the regression of individual heart muscle cells into their precursor cells. In the future the protein could possibly help to efficiently heal damaged heart muscle tissue and so the scientists plan to improve the self-healing powers of the heart with the help of oncostatin M.

Picture: Cellular regression in diseased heart tissue with the help of oncostatin M: the image shows heart muscles under the fluorescence microscope. The myofibrils are stained red, the cell nuclei blue. © MPI for Heart and Lung Research

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MPI of Psychiatry: Scientists measure dream content for the first time

With the help of lucid dreamers, who are able to influence the content of their dreams, now researchers found out that dreams activate the brain in a similar way to real actions. Therefore the dreamers were asked to voluntarily “dream” that they were repeatedly clenching first their right fist and then their left one for ten seconds while sleeping in a magnetic resonance scanner. The brain activity measured was then compared to the brain activity that arises when the hand is moved while the persons were awake.

Picture: Activity in the motor cortex during the movement of the hands while awake (left) and during a dreamed movement (right). Blue areas indicate the activity during a movement of the right hand, which is clearly demonstrated in the left brain hemisphere, while red regions indicate the corresponding left-hand movements in the opposite brain hemisphere. © MPI of Psychiatry
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