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Welcome to BIFTM (BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine)

The development of innovative approaches for controlling living systems represents a major challenge for biomedicine and biotechnology. Strategies available today frequently lack the required specificity and efficacy. This stems from our inability to adequately control key functions of our own bodies, and to efficiently control living systems in artificial environments.

In particular, novel “smart” drugs, cell based therapies and implants are required for successful therapeutic approaches for regenerative medicine. Furthermore, innovative strategies are required to prevent the formation of bacterial biofilms in clinical settings. Likewise, for biotechnology applications, innovative smart materials and devices are needed for the biomimetic culture of eukaryotic cells and to harness the properties of microbial biofilms. Therefore, the overarching challenge of the BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine programme (BIFTM) is to develop novel approaches and new technologies to control living systems. Given the complexity of these systems, an absolute prerequisite is a deeper understanding of the living systems from the whole organism down to the molecular level. This demands the development of powerful analytical technology.

 This represents an inherently transdisciplinary challenge. BIFTM fosters an environment which promotes active and efficient collaboration between the required scientific disciplines. Researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) provide core expertise in biology, chemistry, physics, material sciences, micro- and nano-engineering, robotics and IT. Scientists from the Institute of Biomaterial Science in Teltow at the Helmholtz Zentrum Geesthacht (HZG) contribute complementary expertise in polymer chemistry and biological evaluation, as well as clinical expertise through their strategic alliance with the Berlin-Brandenburg Center for Regenerative Therapies (BCRT, jointly operated clinical translation centre of Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin and HZG/Teltow).

To attain its goals this programme focuses its activities on three interdependent areas:

  •   The acquisition of basic biological knowledge and its translation to the development of novel approaches to control organ and tissue formation and regeneration (Topic 1, Biological Networks and Synthetic Regulators).
  •   The development of third generation biotechnology for the control and manipulation of cells in artificial environments, specifically eukaryotic stem cells and bacterial biofilms (Topic 2, Cell Populations on Biofunctional Surfaces).
  •   The development of innovative polymer-based materials for medical devices and their translation in regenerative medicine (Topic 3, Multifunctional Polymers and Regenerative Medicine).






Schroedinger award laureates
Erwin Schrödinger Award for Specifically Designed Petri Dishes

Three KIT scientists receive the award worth EUR 50,000 for their interdisciplinary research on three-dimensional cell culturing.

Pictures show the three Schroedinger Award laureates Christopher Barner-Kowollik, Martin Wegener and Martin Bastmeyer.

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Scavenger cell removes the repair patch (Photo: Volker Middel / KIT)
Scavenger Cells Repair Muscle Fibers

New Findings Give Insight into the Cell Membrane Repair Process of Torn Muscle Fibers

Everybody knows the burning sensation in the legs when climbing down a steep slope for a long time. It is caused by microruptures in the cell membrane of our muscle fibers. These holes in the cell envelopes must be closed as soon as possible as otherwise muscle cells will die off. Researchers at KIT were able to observe this repair process using high-resolution real-time microscopy. It only takes a few seconds until proteins from the inside of the injured cell form a repair patch that finally closes the hole in the membrane. The researchers at KIT now demonstrated that scavenger cells moving around within the muscle virtually perform nano-surgery to remove this repair patch later and restore the normal cell membrane structure.

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Prostate cancer cells (green) in a superporous cryogel with tissue-like elasticity (Picture taken by Bettina Göppert/KIT using a scanning electron microscope)
Top Story for Cancer Research

Publication on Three-Dimensional Prostate Model Honored by “Prostate Cell News”

A team of researchers led by Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl and Professor Andrew C. B. Cato at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) are developing a three-dimensional model for prostate cancer research based on cryogels. The model will be used to reproduce natural processes and above all to examine the development and the progression of tumors. A current paper on this project published in the scientific journal Small (DOI: 10.1002/smll.201600683) has been crowned top story of the week on “Prostate Cell News”, a major international platform and database for prostate cancer research.

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The GS-DProSw molecule in its inactive form (blue) can be activated by visible light (red) and “switched off” again by UV light.
Successful Laboratory Test of Photoswitchable Anti-tumor Agent

KIT Researchers Develop Oxygen-independent, Photoswitchable Molecule and Test It Successfully in the Lab for Its Effect against Tumors

Photoswitchable agents might reduce side effects of a chemotherapy. So far, photodynamic therapies have been dependent on oxygen in the tissue. But hardly any oxygen exists in malignant, rapidly growing tumors. A group of researchers of KIT and the University of Kiev has now developed a photo-switchable molecule as a basis of an oxygen-independent method. Their successful laboratory tests on tumors are reported in the journal “Angewandte Chemie” (Applied Chemistry).

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By means of the MOSAIC method, molecules can be arranged with high accuracy on a pegboard of 50 times 100 nm in size.
Unveiling the Grammar of Biological Cells

Chemists Develop MOSAIC Method to Decode not only Individual Cell Signals, but also Spatial Interactions of Various Signals

Cells in the body exchange a number of signals with their surroundings. Deficient signal pathways may adversely affect the function of cells and cause diseases. However, we hardly know more than the vocabulary of cellular language. It is unknown how the “words” are combined in “sentences”. If cell grammar was known, complex processes in cells might be understood. Researchers of KIT have now presented a method to decode the grammar of cell signals in the journal Angewandte Chemie (Applied Chemistry).

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The Compounds Platform (ComPlat) archives substances and facilitates supply of reference material. The ComPlat equipment may be used by researchers free of charge.
Molecule Archive: Central Sample Bank for Research

Substances Developed for Research Are to Be Preserved for Science / KIT Establishes International Archive for Molecules and Active Substances

Usually, chemical compounds and active substances developed under a research project are disposed of in the end, although they are of high scientific value and might be further used. In the next three years, KIT will establish the “Compounds Platform” (ComPlat), a central archive to collect such substances and to make them available to scientists worldwide. This new infrastructural facility for research has now been approved of for funding as a core facility by DFG.

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Miniaturized eyeball: The model of a cyanobacterium shows how light is bundled at one point on its way through the cell.
Protozoa with Visual Capacity: How Bacteria “See”

KIT Scientists Have Solved a Big Mystery of Biology: Bacteria Can See and Move towards a Light Source, because They Function like Human Eyeballs

A 300-year old mystery of biology has been solved. A team of researchers from Germany, the United Kingdom, and Portugal has found that cyanobacteria – microscopically small protozoa existing worldwide – use the functioning principle of the lens eye to perceive light and move towards it. The key to solving this mystery was an idea developed in Karlsruhe: Jan Gerrit Korvink, Professor at KIT and Head of the Institute of Microstructure Technology (IMT), used silicon plates and UV light to measure the refraction index of the protozoa.

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The new Collaborative Research Center 1176 focuses on customized macromolecules with defined functions.
Specifically Controlling the Structure of Macromolecules

DFG Funds New Collaborative Research Center on ”Molecular Structurization of Soft Matter“

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) has again acquired a Collaborative Research Center (SFB) funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). SFB 1176 “Molekulare Strukturierung weicher Materie” (Molecular Structurization of Soft Matter) is coordinated by KIT. The Collaborative Research Center will develop new synthesis processes for long-chain molecules in order to characterize and construct them with so far unreached precision. This will result in an innovative leap in a number of material classes.

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Cells of a pancreatic tumor
Pancreatic Cancer: CD44 Protein induces Metastases

Peptides Might Help Fighting Pancreatic Tumors/Biologists Studied the CD44v6 Isoform and Discovered Peptides that Inhibit Metastatic Spreading

Due to their rapid metastatic spread, pancreatic tumors are among the most aggressive types of cancer. Only three to five percent of patients have a survival rate of five years. A team of KIT researchers has now established the basis for new therapeutic approaches. In the Gastroenterology journal they report that in various pancreatic cancer mouse models CD44v6-specific peptides do not only inhibit the spread of tumor cells, but may even lead to the regression of already existing metastases. (DOI 10.1053/j.gastro.2015.10.020).

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Pavel Levkin
Pavel Levkin Is Granted Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize

Highest Distinction in Germany for Young Researchers – Polymer Chemist Develops Novel Materials for Molecular Cell Biology

The chemist Dr. Pavel Levkin of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is granted the 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The prize is considered the highest distinction for young researchers in Germany. Scientific work of Pavel Levkin focuses on the investigation of cell-surface interactions, the development of biofunctional materials and super-water-repellent surfaces as well as on nanoparticles for specific medicine and gene transport. A major scientific success of Levkin was the synthesis of lipid-like molecules for gene modification of cells.

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Control of cellular differentiation: long extensions of cells (in blue) carry the second messenger Wnt (in red); contact points are shown in yellow (Picture: Eliana Stanganello and Steffen Scholpp)
How Cells Communicate

Research of the European Zebrafish Resource Center of KIT Provides Insight into the Development of the Central Nervous System of Vertebrates – Publication in Nature Communications

During embryonal development of vertebrates, signaling molecules inform each cell at which position it is located. In this way, the cell can develop its special structure and function. For the first time now, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have shown that these signaling molecules are transmitted in bundles via long filamentary cell projections. Studies of zebrafish of the scientists of the European Zebrafish Resource Center (EZRC) of KIT revealed how the transport of the signaling molecules influences signaling properties. A publication in the Nature Communications journal presents the results. 

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The Karlsruhe Exposure System is compact and can measure fine dust concentrations directly at the location of pollution. (Photo: VITROCELL Systems GmbH)
Easy Measurement of the Effect of Fine Dust

New Exposure System Determines Fine Dust Concentration in Lungs / Quick, Inexpensive, and Close-to-reality Replacement for Animal Experiments

Fine dusts from industry, traffic, and households are omnipresent. Still, they are difficult to capture by reliable medical measurements. KIT researchers have now developed an exposure system, by means of which biological cells are exposed to fine dust-loaded air flows in an exact and reproducible manner. Using this system, it is possible to collect data on the adverse impact of fine dusts of variable sources in a rapid and inexpensive manner and without animal experiments being needed. In cooperation with the industry partner Vitrocell, a marketable product has been developed.

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Award ceremony at the congress “Smart Cities”: VDE President Dr. Joachim Schneider and Professor Georg Bretthauer with VDE legal adviser Dr. Beate Mand. (Photo: VDE)
VDE Ring of Honor for Professor Georg Bretthauer

Association for Electrical, Electronic, and Information Technologies (VDE) Honors KIT Scientist for Research Relating to Measurement and Automation Technology

Professor Georg Bretthauer, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), receives the VDE Ring of Honor, the highest award granted for merits in research and development. The VDE honors Bretthauer’s extraordinary commitment to measurement and automation technology. At the KIT, the engineer and computer scientist among others developed an artificial accommodation system: Artificial lenses inserted in case of diseases, such as cataract, are to automatically focus objects at variable distances. The results are now incorporated in the current project on an intelligent contact lens.

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Company logo amcure
Preclinical Development of Tumor Therapeutic Agent Starts

KIT Spinoff amcure GmbH Receives EUR 5 Million for the Development of New Tumor Therapeutic Agents and Preclinical and Clinical Studies

There is an urgent need for medical agents to treat metastatic tumors. In case of pancreatic cancer, one of the most aggressive types of cancer that is often detected late, 95% of the patients die within five years after the diagnosis. The KIT spinoff amcure develops tumor therapeutic agents that might reduce this mortality rate. For preclinical and clinical tests of the agents, amcure has now received a total of EUR 5 million from investors. This will allow for the further development of these substances in the next years.

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The zebrafish is used as a model organism for research into the embryonic development of vertebrates.
Variable Gene Expression in Zebrafish

KIT Researchers Study the Expression of Genetic Information – Two Different Transcription Mechanisms Exist in Zebrafish – Publication in “Nature”

Early embryonic development of vertebrates is controlled by the genes and their “grammar”. Decoding this grammar might help understand the formation of abnormalities or cancer or develop new medical drugs. For the first time, it is now found by a study that various mechanisms of transcribing DNA into RNA exist during gene expression in the different development phases of zebrafish. This study is presented by KIT researchers in the journal “Nature”.

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First, an inactivated photo-switchable antibiotic was added to a bacterial lawn. Then, a mask was applied and the lawn was exposed to light for the specific activation of the antibiotic. (Photo: Babii et al., Angewandte Chemie, 2014)
Switching an Antibiotic on and off with Light

Fundamental Research at KIT Paves the Way to the Specific Therapy of Bacterial Infections

Scientists of the KIT and the University of Kiev have produced an antibiotic, whose biological activity can be controlled with light. Thanks to the robust diarylethene photoswitch, the antimicrobial effect of the peptide mimetic can be applied in a spatially and temporally specific manner. This might open up new options for the treatment of local infections, as side effects are reduced. The researchers present their photoactivable antibiotic with the new photomodule in a “Very Important Paper” of the journal “Angewandte Chemie”.

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The small, but highly complex particles contain chemically different segments.
Microparticles Show Molecules Their Way

Researchers Produce Three-dimensional Structures Using Three Chemically Different Patches

A team of researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and the University of Michigan / USA has produced novel microparticles, whose surface consists of three chemically different segments. These segments can be provided with different (bio-) molecules. Thanks to the specific spatial orientation of the attached molecules the microparticles are suited for innovative applications in medicine, biochemistry, and engineering. The researchers now report about their development in the journal "Angewandte Chemie". 

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Communication between man and machine – a fascinating area at the interface of chemistry, biomedicine, and engineering. (Figure: KIT/S. Giselbrecht, R. Meyer, B. Rapp)
The Cyborgs Era Has Started

Interfaces of Technical Devices with Organisms for Medical Applications – KIT Scientists Report in “Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed.”

Medical implants, complex interfaces between brain and machine or remotely controlled insects: Recent developments combining machines and organisms have great potentials, but also give rise to major ethical concerns. In their review entitled “Chemie der Cyborgs – zur Verknüpfung technischer Systeme mit Lebewesen” (The Chemistry of Cyborgs – Interfacing Technical Devices with Organisms), KIT scientists discuss the state of the art of research, opportunities, and risks. The review is published now by the renowned journal “Angewandte Chemie Int. Ed.” (DOI: 10.1002/ange.201307495).

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Scanning electron microscopy of stem cells (yellow / green) in a scaffold structure (blue) serving as a basis for the artificial bone marrow. (Photo: C. Lee-Thedieck/KIT)
KIT Researchers Develop Artificial Bone Marrow

Specific Reproduction of Hematopoietic Stem Cells outside of the Body Might Facilitate Therapy of Leukemia in a Few Years

Artificial bone marrow may be used to reproduce hematopoietic stem cells. A prototype has now been developed by scientists of KIT, the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart, and Tübingen University. The porous structure possesses essential properties of natural bone marrow and can be used for the reproduction of stem cells at the laboratory. This might facilitate the treatment of leukemia in a few years. The researchers are now presenting their work in the “Biomaterials” journal (DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials. 2013.10.038). 

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Schematic diagram of a metal-organic fraemwork
Polymer Coatings Based on Molecular Structures

KIT Researchers Developing a Novel Gel for Biological and Medical Applications

A novel method developed by researchers from Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Jacobs University Bremen enables manufacturing of polymer layers with tailor-made properties and multiple functions: a stable and porous gel (SURGEL) for biological and medical applications is obtained from a metal-organic framework (SURMOF) grown up on a substrate. The method is presented in the renowned Journal of the American Chemical Society.

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Flourescence microscopy of the novel "Petri Dish"
Precise Docking Sites for Cells

Specifically Designed Petri Dishes - Surfaces and Three-dimensional Scaffolds Are Modified Photochemically

The Petri dish is a classical biological laboratory device, but it is no ideal living environment for many types of cells. Studies lose validity, as cell behavior on a flat plastic surface differs from that in branched lung tissue, for example. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology have now presented a method to make three-dimensional structures attractive or repellent for certain types of cells.

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Printable Biotechnology


Under the ”Molecular Interaction Engineering“ (MIE) Helmholtz Research Network, KIT Is Granted about EUR 3.5 Million for Five Years by the BMBF

Cells, biological circuits, and individual biomolecules organize themselves and interact with the environment. Use of these capabilities in flexible and economically efficient biotechnological production systems is in the focus of the “Molecular Interaction Engineering” (MIE) project. It is the objective to develop printed biological circuits and catalysts for biologico-technical hybrid systems. MIE will be funded with about EUR 3.5 million by the BMBF. 

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The STED-RICS microscope scans the fluorescent cell membrane with a light spot and, thus, an image is recorded. (Figure: P. N. Hedde/KIT)
Nature: Watching Molecule Movements in Live Cells

KIT Scientists Combine STED and RICS Microscopy Methods/Publication in Nature Communications

The newly developed STED-RICS microscopy method records rapid movements of molecules in live samples. By combining raster image correlation spectroscopy (RICS) with STED fluorescence microscopy, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) opened up new applications in medical research, e.g. analyzing the dynamics of cell membranes at high protein concentrations. This method is now presented in Nature Communications (doi: 10.1038/ncomms3093).

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Dr. Pavel Levkin (ITG, KIT)
KIT Acquires Two New EU ERC Starting Grants


Projects Focus on Capillary Suspensions and Microstructures for High-throughput Screening of Cells – EUR 1.5 Million Each for Five Years

Pavel Levkin receives ERC Starting Grant. His research group focuses on microstructures with hydrophilic and hydrophobic properties for the high-throughput screening of cells.


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Like the teeth of a zipper, the charged amino acids (red, blue) form connections between protein segments. In this way, they can form pores in the cell membrane. (Figure: KIT)
Cell: Protein Folding via Charge Zippers

Proteins in Cellular Membranes Use Charged Side Chains like the Teeth of a Zipper to Fold and Assemble with other Molecules

Membrane proteins are the “molecular machines” in biological cell envelopes. They control diverse processes, such as the transport of molecules across the lipid membrane, signal transduction, and photosynthesis. Their shape, i.e. folding of the molecules, plays a decisive role in the formation of, e.g., pores in the cell membrane. In the Cell magazine, researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the University of Cagliari are now reporting a novel charge zipper principle used by proteins to form functional units (DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2012.12.017).

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Structure of SURMOF 2 metal-organic frameworks: The pore size may reach up to three times three nanometers. (Figure: Dr. Jinxuan Liu, IFG)
Large Pores

KIT Researchers Develop New Method to Produce Metal-organic Frameworks

Researchers of the KIT Institute of Functional Interfaces (IFG), Jacobs University Bremen, and other institutions have developed a new method to produce metal-organic frameworks (MOFs). By means of the so-called liquid-phase epitaxy, the scientists succeeded in producing a new class of MOFs with a pore size never reached before. These frameworks open up interesting applications in medicine, optics, and photonics. The new class of MOFs, called “SURMOF 2”, is presented in the “Nature Scientific Reports” journal.

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Scanning electron microscopy: Hydrogel of high pore density may be the basis of a prostate model. (By: Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl, KIT)
Prostate Model for Cancer Research

KIT Project for Enhancing Understanding of Prostate Tumor – State Funding under the Program “Development of Alternative Methods to Avoid Animal Experiments”

Prostate cancer is the most frequent malignant tumor disease of males in the Western world. To better study the causes and development of this disease, Dr. Friederike J. Gruhl, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), is developing a three-dimensional model of the prostate. Her work is aimed at modeling natural processes in the test tube (in vitro). In the long term, the in vitro model is to completely replace animal experiments in prostate cancer research. The state of Baden-Württemberg is funding the project with EUR 200,000. 

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Zebrafish are considered ideal model organisms for biomedical research. (Photo: Martin Lober)
Zebrafish – the Stars of Biomedicine

Many Findings Can Be Transferred to Humans – Opening of the First Zebrafish Resource Center in Europe and First Screening Center in the World on KIT Campus North

Zebrafish share most organ systems with humans. This makes them ideal model organisms to study the causes of human diseases like cancer or heart diseases. For this purpose, research needs a variety of zebrafish lines. With the European Zebrafish Resource Center (EZRC), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is now opening the first central repository for such lines in Europe. The EZRC is funded jointly by the BioInterfaces programme of the Helmholtz Association and the Klaus Tschira Foundation. The Klaus Tschira foundation provides a funding of 1.5 Million Euro over three years.

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Dr. Alexandra Matzke and Dr. Matthias Klaften with the awards handed over by Peter Hofelich, member of state parliament, and Dr. Tilman Schad, CEO of bwcon (from right to left). (Photo: bwcon)
Award to KIT Spinoff for Cancer Research


CyberOne Award to the amcure GmbH Startup for Novel Approaches to Treating Pancreas Cancer

Yesterday evening, amcure GmbH was granted the second prize of the CyberOne Award for the development of an active substance for the treatment of pancreas cancer and the Special Award of the state of Baden-Württemberg for the best research commercialization. amcure is a startup founded by three scientists of the Institute of Toxicology and Genetics and one employee of the Innovation Management Service Unit of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The CyberOne Award and the State Award are endowed with EUR 5000 each.

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Under green fluorescent light, cell structures, here microtubuli, can be observed in living fish embryos. (Figure: NIH, KIT)
Nature: Microscope Looks into Cells of Living Fish


Novel Method Resolves Cell Structures and Cell Motion of Living Animals / Resolution Is Doubled by Special Illumination, Computer Processing, and Sample Preparation

Microscopes provide valuable insights in the structure and dynamics of cells, in particular when the latter remain in their natural environment. However, this is very difficult especially for higher organisms. Researchers of Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, Mainz, and the American National Institutes of Health (NIH) have now developed a new method to visualize cell structures of an eighth of a micrometer in size in living fish larvae. It is published in the Nature Methods magazine (DOI:10.1038/nmeth.2025).

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Repair of the plasma membrane of a cell: For the first time, researchers have observed the relevant repair mechanisms in zebrafish. (Photo: Institute of Toxicology and Genetics, KIT)
How Muscle Cells Seal Their Membranes

Researchers Hope to Contribute to the Development of Therapies for Human Myopathies

Every cell is enclosed by a thin double layer of lipids that separates the distinct internal environment of the cell from the extracellular space. Damage to this lipid bilayer, also referred to as plasma membrane, disturbs the cellular functions and may lead to the death of the cell. For example, downhill walking tears many little holes into the plasma membranes of the muscle cells in our legs. To prevent irreparable damage, muscle cells have efficient systems to seal these holes again. Researchers at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and Heidelberg University have succeeded for the first time in observing membrane repair in real-time in a living organism.

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Why Sweat Has an Antimicrobial Effect


JBC Paper: Impact of the DCD 1L Antimicrobial Peptide on Bacterial Membranes / KIT’s Physical Measurement Technology Supplies Data for Bioscience

The dermcidin peptide produced by human sweat glands acts like an antibiotic on the skin and fights infections. A team of researchers headed by Professor Birgit Schittek of the University of Tübingen, in cooperation with Professor Anne S. Ulrich from KIT, studied how exactly this works. The peptide forms ion channels in the bacterial membrane, which destroy the membrane potential. Today, the team published its results in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, JBC.

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