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Rivalry amongst research groups - a thing of the past?

"The future of research lies in networking," said Prof. Dr. Thorsten Friedrich from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Freiburg. The "Membrane Proteins and Biological Membranes" research training group (Graduiertenkolleg), which Prof. Friedrich helped to set up, forms a network combining research groups from Freiburg (Germany), Basel (Switzerland) and Strasbourg (France). Students from numerous disciplines and countries learn to work on an interdisciplinary basis and benefit from the know-how of the diverse life sciences areas.

An individual research group is limited in what it can do. For example, an individual group can only purchase a limited number of expensive instruments. And the knowledge and methodological spectrum are also quite restricted. What happens if a young researcher has access to the know-how of more than 20 work groups? “In that case, research will be more efficient and innovative,” said Prof. Dr. Thorsten Friedrich from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Freiburg. “Cooperation between researchers from different disciplines is the only way to be able to maintain a high international profile.”

Interdisciplinarity and independence

The “Membrane Proteins and Biological Membranes” research training group, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), started up in April 2008 and has established an exchange programme for doctoral students with the Franco-German University. Work groups from the Universities of Freiburg, Basel and Strasbourg each take on about 20 students from the fields of chemistry, pharmacy, biology and medicine and enable them to do a three-year doctorate. In Freiburg, this consists of teams from biochemistry, physical chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry and medical molecular biology headed up and coordinated by Professor Friedrich.
The current members of the “Membrane proteins and biological membranes” research training group, where several student places are still available, together with their supervisors and Prof. Thorsten Friedrich (back row, third from the left) (Photo: Markus
The current members of the “Membrane proteins and biological membranes” research training group, where several student places are still available, together with their supervisors and Prof. Thorsten Friedrich (back row, third from the left) (Photo: Markus Kohlstaedt)
“Research training group teaching is in English, and is not only centred around networking but also on autonomous studies and team spirit,” said Friedrich. Students have to organise themselves, elect a spokesperson, hold seminars to discuss their projects and organise their own conferences to which they invite speakers from other countries. That is how they learn what it means to be a modern scientist, and also get used to working with colleagues from diverse life sciences fields, and this can be very enlightening. “For example, it is quite astonishing to hear the questions asked by students from other disciplines during joint seminars,” said Friedrich. “Such interdisciplinary seminars give students a completely new perspective of their own field of research, and totally new ideas can develop.” Science is increasingly becoming a dialogue between complementary brains. Friedrich sees the research training groups as a role model of the future.

Membrane proteins is the focus of industry

The archaeal Amt-1 ammonium transporter in Archaeoglobus fulgidus bacteria is one of numerous membrane proteins that are found in nature. (Photo: Prof. Oliver Einsle)
The focus of the research training group’s programme on membrane proteins and biological membranes is also part of the current trend. Approximately one third of all cellular proteins are located in biological membranes, including transporters for substances that cells take up or release, receptors for chemical and electrical cell communication, and some of the elementary processes involved in photosynthesis and energy production. That is why this field of research is of such major importance for the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. According to Friedrich, at least 80 to 90 per cent of the molecules that pharmaceutical-chemical companies hope to turn into effective drug targets, are membrane proteins. A classical example of such a drug is Aspirin, which blocks a membrane protein and hence prevents the synthesis of molecular cues that induce inflammatory reactions and pain.
So that the science students can get acquainted with industrial applied research, in future they will also do work experience in pharmaceutical and chemical companies. At present, the research training group administrators are discussing with industry representatives how this can be set up. “It would be an excellent development; the students would benefit hugely from being involved in the development of a concrete product,” said Friedrich. Research training group students will also have to spend at least six months in a research group at one of the partner universities. Friedrich sees international exchange as a huge advantage, because it will enable students to learn how to live in a different culture. “This is a prerequisite in today’s global science world,” said Friedrich.

mn – 7th July 2008
© BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH
Further information:
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Friedrich
University of Freiburg
Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry
Albertstr. 21
D-79104 Freiburg i. Br.
Tel.: +49-(0)761/203-6060
Fax: +49-(0)761/203-6096
E-mail: thorsten.friedrich@uni-freiburg.de
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/rivalry-amongst-research-groups-a-thing-of-the-past