Reinhart Koselleck Project for the Heidelberg Biochemist Ed Hurt
Posted August 25 2011
DFG grants 1.5 million euros for research project on ribosomal development

For his research on the development of ribosomes in cells, the Heidelberg biochemist and CellNetworks Principle Investigator Professor Eduard Hurt will be funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) within the framework of a ‘Reinhart Koselleck Project’. The DFG granted 1.5 million euros for the research project until the end of July 2016, at which time the project is scheduled to be completed. In the context of this project Professor Hurt and his group at Heidelberg University are investigating the tools involved in the development of ribosomes, using a ‘heat-loving’ fungus as their model organism. Their findings might even contribute to the development of new cancer medicines. With the new funding instrument of the ‘Reinhart Koselleck Projects' the DFG fosters the exceptionally innovative projects of scientists who have exhibited outstanding scientific achievements.

The team of scientists led by Professor Hurt wants to use a thermophilic eukaryote, the fungus Chaetomium thermophilum with an optimum growth temperature between 50 and 60 degrees Celsius, to analyze the interaction of some 200 different molecular tools, which are involved in the formation of ribosomes. Ribosomes are the protein producers in cells and therefore are responsible for one of the key processes of life in all cells and organisms. “In the complex process of ribosome development, four different ribonucleic acids accumulate with around 70 ribosomal protein components to form a highly efficient nano machine,” Professor Hurt explains. “During this construction about 200 cellular pre-ribosomal factors are used, which we call ‘tools’. In the beginning of this process immature preliminary forms of ribosomes are created, the so called ‘pre-ribosomes, which are then modeled and converted by the tools to become functioning ribosomal subunits.”

“Our research aims at discovering if these tools work like a hammer and chisel in dealing with the pre-ribosomes, analogous to an artist making a sculpture from a block of marble, or if further tools are participating in this process. These would be comparable to welding torches, scissors, scaffolding, hydraulic lifts or tractors, treating and transporting the rough pre-ribosomes under temporal and special coordination,” Professor Hurt of the Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center explains.

In order to identify the interaction of the 200 different pre-ribosomal factors, every single one of them has to be investigated and have its structure determined. For this purpose the pre-ribosomal factors of the thermophilic eukaryote Chaetomium thermophilum are to be used. “The financial support of the Reinhart Koselleck Project will enable us to test if the heat-loving fungus, the genome of which we have decoded, can deliver functional insights into these tools using high-resolution structural information,” Ed Hurt explains. “Since defects in the construction of the ribosome can lead to diseases like cancer, the factors of the ribosomal construction are also an attractive field for the research of cancer therapy. Detailed structural knowledge of this extremely complex machine, which works like an assembly line, could accelerate the development of medicines.

The funding instrument of the Reinhart Koselleck Projects, open to all disciplines, is meant to foster exceptionally innovative projects, which are not supported by other funding sources and cannot be pursued solely by the institution in question. During the five year funding period funds of up to 1.25 million euros plus overhead will be granted. The funding program is named after Reinhart Koselleck (died in 2006) who was one of the most outstanding German historians of the 20th century. He was a pioneer of modern social history in Germany and taught and researched at Heidelberg University for many years.

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