LMU successful with five Collaborative Research Centre funding applications

25 Nov 2022

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding two new LMU-led transregional CRC/TRR in the fields of mathematical physics and plant genetics as well as three other alliances in which LMU plays a substantial role.

In the latest round of grant approvals by the German Research Foundation (DFG), LMU has successfully obtained funding for five large research alliances in conjunction with partner universities. Two new CRC/Transregio will be established under the leadership of LMU – one for the mathematical analysis of many-body quantum systems and the other for research into interactions between plants and microorganisms.

Moreover, LMU researchers play a substantial role in two further large-scale transregional research alliances, both relating to immunological subjects. And the fifth successful CRC project with LMU involvement in this round, also on an immunological topic, has had its funding extended. The projects are to be funded initially for four years, starting from next year.

The mathematics of quantum systems

Professor Christian Hainzl | © Andres Chuquisengo / LMU

In the new CRC/TRR 352, scientists are researching the mathematical foundations and laws of many-body quantum systems. Titled “ Mathematics of many-body quantum systems and their collective phenomena,” the CRC focuses on the mathematical analysis of models from the physics of condensed matter. In condensed matter physics, the collective behavior of interacting constituents such as particles and spins leads to a wide variety of macroscopically observable phenomena, which also have technological relevance.

Although the mathematical equations of quantum models are well understood at the microscopic level, the computational models still reach their limits at the macroscopic level – that is to say, when it comes to collective phenomena such as magnetism and superconductivity. The research alliance now wants, in the context of these phenomena, to better understand important correlations in the respective solid-state systems in order to improve numerical algorithms and render them easier to handle.

In numerous subprojects, the CRC teams are investigating various types of correlations and entanglements in many-body quantum systems from different perspectives. The spokesperson of the alliance is Prof. Christian Hainzl from the Department of Mathematics at LMU. Other partners in the CRC/TRR include the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of Tübingen, while the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (Klosterneuburg) is an external member and the Universities of Copenhagen and Zurich are associated members.

Interactions between plants and microorganisms

Professor Martin Parniske | © LMU

Agricultural yields and thus food security are vitally dependent on plant health. Plants interact with a wide variety of microorganisms, which can be useful or harmful to them. Symbiotic communities can improve the supply of nutrients and protect against pests. Pathogenic microorganisms, by contrast, can devastate crop harvests and even cause total yield losses.

CRC/TRR 356 “Genetic diversity shaping biotic interactions of plants (PlantMicrobe)” is investigating molecular mechanisms that influence useful and harmful plant-microbe interactions. It brings together an alliance of project leaders that are exploring aspects such as molecular communication between host plant and microorganism, cellular changes in both organisms during the colonization of the plant by microorganisms, and plant defense mechanisms. Infection and defense strategies undergo rapid evolution and co-evolution. The so created genetic diversity is a valuable treasure for scientific discovery and its exploration and utilization is at the heart of TRR 356.

To this end, the scientists want to explore the genetic diversity of various molecular actors within a species or across entire phyla. This strategy is meant not only to identify potential candidate genes, but above all to decode molecular mechanisms with high resolution through the comparison of natural variants of individual actors. The so gained knowledge will provide knowledge with the long-term goal to fuel new biotechnological strategies that improve plant nutrition via root symbionts and combat plant diseases.

In addition to the research projects, the TRR 356 concept includes a strong public education component, which will be located primarily at Munich Botanical Garden. In this way, the public will be informed about progress and discoveries in the field of plant-microbe interactions and their relevance for food security.

The spokesperson of the alliance is Prof. Martin Parniske, Chair of Genetics at the LMU Biocenter. In addition, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the University of Tübingen are involved in the TRR as applicants, along with individual research groups from Helmholtz Munich, the Max Planck Institutes for Biology (Tübingen) and of Molecular Plant Physiology (Potsdam-Golm), and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry in Halle.

Two large-scale immunological projects

LMU scientists are also playing a substantial role in two other transregional CRC/Transregio alliances:

Collaborative Research Centre / Transregio (CRC/TRR) 355 “Heterogeneity and functional specialization of regulatory T cells in different micromilieus” is getting underway under the leadership of University Medical Center Mainz. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) play a major part in controlling the body’s immune response. Furthermore, they are integrated in the functional architecture of various tissues. Despite some commonalities, Tregs exhibit important differences depending on their function. The CRC is researching this heterogeneity of Tregs and its influence on immunological and tissue-specific diseases. Ultimately, the goal is that Tregs will be used for the development of specifically tailored immune therapies.

CRC/TRR 355 will receive around 13 million euros for the four years of the first funding period. The speaker role is held by the University of Mainz, while the Munich universities TUM and LMU are also involved. Co-spokesperson of the alliance on behalf of LMU is Prof. Carolin Daniel from the Division of Clinical Pharmacology at University of Munich Hospital.

How does the immune system develop in the perinatal phase surrounding the birth?

Birth means dramatic changes, particularly for the immune system. This become apparent by the fact that newborns are suddenly exposed to environmental influences, and must learn to cope with the microbial colonization of the gut and other organs while still grappling with the demands of independent food intake and breathing. Prior to birth, the immune system had developed in the protected environment of the womb. But what happens in the perinatal phase surrounding the birth? In what ways does the immune system adjust and prepare for the world outside? How do the cells of the complex immune defenses differentiate? This is a research field that has been largely unworked before now.

The new CRC/Transregio 359 “Perinatal development of immune cell topology (PILOT)” wants to get to the bottom of the mechanisms that are crucial for the perinatal differentiation of immune cells and the cellular environment. The speaker role of the CRC is held by the University of Freiburg, while LMU plays a substantial role in the research alliance. Prof. Markus Sperandio from the Institute for Cardiovascular Physiology and Pathophysiology at LMU’s Biomedical Center is co-spokesperson.

Extended funding

Mechanisms for the detection and elimination of “foreign” genetic material are the focus of CRC/Transregio 237 “Nucleic acid immunity.” Certain receptors in the immune system are able to distinguish foreign nucleic acids from endogenous ones. As such, they play a vital role in the body’s defenses against pathogens. As part of the CRC/Transregio, the scientists want to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of nucleic acid immunity and explore under what conditions they can also contribute to the development of diseases - for example chronic infections or autoimmune disorders. It is also envisioned that the results will facilitate the development of new, targeted therapies and therapeutic vaccines.

The CRC/Transregio has been funded by the German Research Foundation since 2018 and is now entering a second funding phase. Prof. Veit Hornung from LMU’s Gene Center Munich is the spokesperson. Other partners include Technische Universität Dresden and the University of Bonn.

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