German Research Foundation Extends Funding for Two Collaborative Research Centers at Freie Universität Berlin

Researchers study the dynamics of living together and the scaffolding of membranes

No 146/2019 from May 23, 2019

The German Research Foundation (DFG) has extended the funding for two Collaborative Research Centers (CRC) at Freie Universität. One is CRC 958, where scientists study the molecular mechanisms by which dynamically organized protein-protein assemblies scaffold cellular membranes. The other is CRC 1171 "Affective Societies," where researchers study the dynamics of human social coexistence in a mobile world. Both projects will be funded for another four years.

Collaborative Research Center 1171 "Affective Societies: Dynamics of Social Coexistence in Mobile Worlds"
CRC Director: Birgitt Röttger-Rössler, Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology

Participating research institutions in CRC 1171’s second funding period include Freie Universität, Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, and the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, as well as Universität Hamburg, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, and the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Halle (Saale). The joint research program has received four more years of funding with a budget of over ten million euros.

Sixteen individual projects with researchers from ten different disciplines across the social sciences and humanities investigate how affect and emotion constitute fundamental aspects of social relations that are essential to whether societies are able to hold together or fall apart. The research group’s goal is to establish a new understanding of societies as affective societies , in which the fundamental meaning of emotionality and affectivity for communal life is taken into account, along with the manifold challenges of the mobile, interconnected and mediatized environments of the twenty-first century.

During the first funding period, CRC researchers developed an empirically grounded relational theory of affect and emotion by investigating key areas of social and communal life. Now in its second funding period, the research program will focus on societal change, as a consequence of mobilities, in light of migration, inequality, political polarization, and new media technologies. Established norms and procedures are challenged as anchors of political and social stability, as much as informal rules and routines of key social institutions are called into question. The center wants to find out which affective and emotional processes drive and result from such changes, and, as Birgitt Röttger-Rössler, director of the Collaborative Research Center 1171, notes, an important goal of the research is not only to sharpen our knowledge of these changes and the tensions that arise from them, but to find out how to deal with them.

Birgitt Röttger-Rössler, Collaborative Research Center 1171, Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology, Tel.: +49 30 838- 57847, Email: birgitt.roettger-roessler [at] fu-berlin (p) de


Collaborative Research Center 958 "Scaffolding of Membranes - Molecular Mechanisms and Cellular Functions"
Spokesperson: Stephan Sigrist, Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy

Scientists from Freie Universität Berlin (host university), Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP), and the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) are working together within the framework of the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 958. Researchers from outside of Berlin are also involved. They are based at the University of Potsdam, the German Institute for Nutrition in Potsdam-Rehbruecke, and Tel Aviv University.

The scientists of the CRC are working on membrane-based protein scaffolds, which typically are dynamic, metastable structures that form a matrix of diverse molecular components with strong multivalent bonds. Stephan Sigrist at Freie Universität Berlin, the spokesperson for the CRC, pointed out that the work of CRC 958 up to now has shown that the spatially and temporally controlled assembly and disassembly of these structures plays a crucial role in membrane transport and the remodeling of membranes as well as steering cellular signaling pathways and differentiation and developmental processes. Stephan Sigrist is a scientist at the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence based at Charité - Universitätsmedizin, the joint medical school of Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität. He has been an Einstein Professor since 2014; this professorship is funded by the Einstein Foundation Berlin.

The spectrum of biological entities and dynamic processes used to probe membrane-near protein scaffolds ranges from cellular signaling to sensory transmission to phenomena of intracellular transport and mechanotransduction. The researchers use new techniques, in particular multiple forms of high-resolution light microscopy, cryo-electron tomography, and various physiological examinations. The investigations are intended to help gain an understanding of how phenomena enable and control the decisions of complex biological systems at the molecular and cellular levels.

In the new funding period the scientists plan to use theoretical modeling to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the scaffolding mechanisms. Michael Kozlov (Tel Aviv University), who has advanced the study of membrane-protein-ensemble dynamics through theoretical biophysical approaches, will join the team to work in this field. In addition, recent advances in cryo-electron microscopy will be incorporated through the new Z05 project led by Christian Spahn (Charité). Finally, two other additional projects led by new members Francesca Bottanelli and David Owald will be brought in. They investigate the role of protein scaffolds in the segregation and sorting of specific membrane proteins (Bottanelli) and the functionality of static and dynamic synapses, or interconnections between nerve cells (Owald).

These changes in the structure of the consortium, together with the innovative technologies and the expertise developed in the CRC during the past funding periods, are expected to lead to a more refined molecular understanding of the frameworks under investigation.

Stephan Sigrist, Spokesperson, Collaborative Research Center 958, Freie Universität Berlin, Department of Biology, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Tel.: +49 30 838-56940, Email: stephan.sigrist [at] fu-berlin (p) de