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School of Life Sciences - LifeNet

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The research at the School of Life Sciences – LifeNet focused on the biology of complex systems – systems biology. The multidisciplinary systems-oriented approaches of the School spanned from mathematics and physics to biology and medicine.

Systems biology is an emerging field investigating network behaviour of cell biological processes as signal transduction, gene regulation, and metabolism. The top-down approach to systems biology focuses on high-throughput technologies and aims at a genome-wide picture which is to date qualitative and static. The bottom-up approach focuses on mechanistic, quantitative, dynamic mathematical models and is to date only applicable to small scale systems. One goal of LifeNet was to bring these two approaches closer together with the final aim of large scale, quantitative predictive mathematical models of cellular processes.

During the years 2007 - 2013 LifeNet hosted an international group of scientists coming from 12 different countries. Nine Internal Senior Fellows, professors at the University of Freiburg, were appointed for three-year periods. Eleven External Senior Fellows from abroad came to work in LifeNet for shorter periods of time, often several times a year. They were hosted by Internal Senior Fellows, but also by other professors at the University. Four Junior Fellows founded research groups in LifeNet and established their laboratories in the Centre for Systems Biology (ZBSA). All of the Junior Fellows were recruited to professorships or permanent positions elsewhere. In addition, 25 junior scientists, PhD students and postdocs, worked with the Internal, External and Junior Fellows in FRIAS on collaborative interdisciplinary projects.

The interdisciplinary character of LifeNet was emphasized by the fact that scientists from four faculties, Biology, Medicine, Mathematics and Physics, and the Technical Faculty were involved in the activities, along with researchers from the Max-Planck-Institute for Immunobiology and Epigenetics, the Centre for Systems Biology (ZBSA), Freiburg Centre for Data Analysis and Modelling (FDM), the Centre for Biological Signalling Studies (BIOSS), Freiburg Initiative for Systems Biology (FRISYS) and the DFG Collaborative Research Centres 592, 746 and 850.

This interdisciplinarity greatly facilitated research at borders of specific fields. New ideas and projects arose from seminar talks, lectures and informal discussions. Several examples of projects that would not have been possible without fellows meeting each other in LifeNet include topics such as disease proteomics, systems-biological and proteomic approaches to evaluate breast cancer metastasis, MR-imaging of C. elegans, or system biology of the aging kidney. Cross-School collaborations of LifeNet and Soft Matter School scientists resulted in projects such as temperature sensitive coatings for cell cultures, and micro MR-imaging of skin and skin cells. The high throughput technologies were also extended to applications in the humanities, as demonstrated by a collaborative project by two Junior Fellows of LifeNet and the School of Language & Literature on complex automated scientific library searches, leading to the a co-publication between the institute’s natural sciences and humanities schools. These examples clearly show that support of complementary projects and research fields delivered additional value, instead of cumulative research activities or “more of the same”.

The excellent scientific productivity of LifeNet fellows was manifested in more than 480 publications in international peer reviewed journals, many of them in the highest ranking journals in natural sciences and biomedicine. A further sign of high scientific recognition and competitiveness of LifeNet fellows is the acquisition of more than 24 millon euros in research grants from different research organisations as well as a number of national and international prizes and distinctions, amongst which were the Alzheimer Research Award 2008 of the Hans-und-Ilse-Breuer Foundation (Baumeister, 2008), the Eva Luise Köhler Research Award for Rare Diseases of the Horst and Eva Luise Köhler Foundation (Bruckner-Tuderman, 2009), and the Hector – Research Award of the Hector Foundation (Timmer, 2010).

Although teaching did not represent a major activity of FRIAS fellows, most of them engaged in advanced level teaching. The 86 bi-weekly LifeNet seminars with 45 international speakers were open to all students and scientists of the university, offering training in systems-oriented and interdisciplinary approaches to biological questions. Several External Senior Fellows gave special lectures and master courses in the Faculties for Biology, Medicine and Physics.

15 Hermann Staudinger Lectures, with exclusively Nobel laureates as lecturers, were organized by the Schools of LifeNet and Soft Matter Research. The Nobel laureates hosted by LifeNet included Rolf Zinkernagel, Aaron Ciechanover (who later also became member of the LifeNet Advisory Board), Robert Huber, Harald zur Hausen, Werner Arber, John E. Walker, Peter Doherty and Peter Agre. These lectures were highly popular with students and other scientists of the university and exposed young researchers to top level international science. Furthermore, and in addition to these Hermann Staudinger Lectures, LifeNet (co-)organized 22 workshops, symposia and conferences on systems biology relevant topics. The LifeNet activities, including the bi-weekly Joint Seminar, attracted a total of more than 6000 national and international participants.

In short, the School of Life Sciences – LifeNet demonstrated that this innovative institutional funding scheme within the framework of the German Excellence Initiative has led to successful, truly interdisciplinary research in the life sciences. Moreover, the School’s work has helped to increase the reputation of Freiburg as an excellent location for life sciences research well beyond the German and European borders.

Directors

Prof. Dr. Leena Bruckner-Tuderman

Prof. Dr. Ralf Baumeister

Prof. Dr. Jens Timmer

Scientific Coordinator

Dr. Britta Küst

Scientific Advisory Board

Prof. Dr. Aaron Ciechanover, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel (2011-2013)

Dr. Adrian C. Dubock, Dornach, Switzerland (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Rudolf Grosschedl, Max Planck Institute for Immunobiology Freiburg, Germany (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Thomas Kirkwood, Institute for Integrated Systems Biology of Ageing and Nutrition, Henry Wellcome Laboratory for Biogerontology Research, University of Newcastle, UK

Prof. Dr. Edda Klipp, HU Berlin, Germany (2011-2013)

Prof. Dr. Marja Makarow, University of Helsinki, Finland (2011-2013)

Prof. Dr. Elliot M. Meyerowitz, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California, USA (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Maximilian Muenke, National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Erwin Neher, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany (2008-2011)

Prof. Dr. Bjorn Olsen, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Sabine Werner, ETH Zürich, Switzerland (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Gary L. Westbrook, Oregon Health Sciences University, Portland, USA (2008-2013)

Prof. Dr. Hans V. Westerhoff, Manchester Centre for Integrative Systems Biology (MCISB), UK, and BioCentre Free University Amsterdam, Netherlands (2008-2011)