Two Consolidator Grants for 2017 from the European Research Council (ERC) go to researchers at the University of Münster. Prof. Andrea Rentmeister, a chemist from the Institute of Biochemistry at the Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy, and physicist Prof. Timo Betz from the Institute of Cell Biology within the Faculty of Medicine, each receive one of the coveted fundings which together total almost four million euros. Both researchers use light as a tool to study cells and control the molecular processes within them.
“Funding from the ERC not only gives researchers financial freedom to continue their research,” says Rector Prof. Johannes Wessels. “It is also, in particular, a form of recognition for their achievements so far and for their scientific reputations. Every grant received is evidence of the outstanding research being undertaken here at Münster University.”
Andrea Rentmeister is a team leader at the “Cells in Motion” (CiM) Cluster of Excellence, and the focus of her work is on biomolecular label chemistry. The ERC will be providing almost two million euros of funding for her work in the coming five years. The project is about controlling the development of cells - by means of light. For researchers, light is an excellent tool for regulating molecular processes within cells and organisms without damaging the cells. “Optochemical biology” uses small photosensitive chemical groups, i.e. parts of organic compounds, to activate or switch molecular functions by using light. This is the means by which Rentmeister aims to steer so-called messenger RNA inserted into the cells in order to monitor the synthesis of certain proteins in the cells. The aim of this technology is to label cells and make them visible - in order, for example, to trace their migration and development in zebra fish embryos. Rentmeister and her team are hoping that this new approach will break through the existing barriers of optochemical biology. The aim is to make it possible for the first time to control the differentiation of cells by means of the “molecular switches” inserted.
Timo Betz is CiM Professor of Cell Mechanics. In the next five years he will be receiving almost two million euros for a research project on epithelial cells. These cells form boundary layers in the bodies of humans and animals, for example in the lung and in the skin. The researchers’ aim is to understand the mechanical processes by which epithelial cells organize themselves properly. It is of the utmost importance that all cells align themselves correctly and, in doing so, distinguish for example the inside of the lung from its outside, as serious illnesses such as cancer could otherwise arise. Timo Betz’ team uses laser light to measure the forces and the mechanical properties inside cells, using so-called optical tweezers. Just as in the case of a house - where the foundations have to bear a greater weight than the roof - the researchers suspect that in epithelial cells there are massive mechanical differences between the different sides. They assume that these differences contribute to the stability of cells. The technical challenge lies in developing new microscopes and laser tools which allow these measurements to be carried out without damaging the cell in the process. The researchers are also drawing up mathematical models to enable them to calculate exactly the alignment of the cells.
The Consolidator Grants funding line is aimed at junior researchers between seven and twelve years after they have received their doctoral degrees, and it helps in building up or consolidating an independent, excellent research team. Other funding lines include ERC Starting Grants and ERC Advanced Grants. Altogether, around 20 researchers at the University of Münster have received grants from the EU Commission in the course of their careers.
Andrea Rentmeister was born in 1977 and studied Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the Technical University of Graz, and Chemistry at the University of Bonn. After receiving her PhD in Bonn, and after a post-doctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology in the USA (2007-2010), she was appointed to a Junior Professorship for Biochemistry at the University of Hamburg. In 2013 she was appointed professor at the University of Münster.
After studying Physics at Würzburg and at the University of Texas at Austin in the USA, Timo Betz, who was born in 1976, moved to the University of Leipzig to complete his diploma dissertation and PhD thesis. From 2007 to 2015 Betz undertook research at the Institut Curie in Paris, France. In 2015 he moved to the University of Münster, initially as a junior research team leader. In 2016 he was appointed Professor of Cell Mechanics.