In 2010, the Philipps-Universität Marburg and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology joined forces to bring synthetic microbiology to Marburg. They established SYNMIKRO, the Center for Synthetic Microbiology, within the LOEWE excellence program of the state of Hessen. Research at the center follows the two-pronged approach – building to understand and understanding to build – to gain insights into the basic principles of microbial life and to provide the fundamental knowledge and tools needed to tap in novel ways the potential of microorganisms as cell factories or sensor/reporter systems. Since its foundation, the center has grown to become a major, internationally visible research institution that today represents one of the hot spots of research in quantitative and synthetic microbiology in Europe.
SYNMIKRO is an interdisciplinary center that consists of members from seven faculties of the university and the four departments of the Max Planck Institute. Drawing on Marburg’s highly-rated expertise in microbiology, it integrates almost 30 laboratory groups at the university and the Max Planck Institute to cover all aspects of microbial life from the molecular level to whole cells and communities. In addition, theory- and ethics-focused groups provide testable mathematical models, systematic overviews and guidance. With its inter- and trans-disciplinary expertise, SYNMIKRO offers a unique opportunity to develop synthetic microbiology, from the identification and characterization of modules in natural systems to the development of synthetic modules and their integration into natural host organisms or synthetic chassis-cells.
For optimal support of the scientific projects, SYNMIKRO has invested in state-of-the-art infrastructural units for laboratory automation, flow cytometry, protein spectroscopy, super resolution microscopy, electron microscopy, structural biology and mass spectrometry. These infrastructural units provide critical support for the projects pursued by SYNMIKRO researchers and their collaboration partners, and are engaged in the development of enabling technologies in key areas in synthetic microbiology.
The impact of SYNMIKRO goes well beyond the dedicated research projects. With the thematic focus in synthetic microbiology within the M.Sc. program Molecular and Cellular Biology and with our successful iGEM team, we recruit graduate and undergraduate students to this fascinating new field early in their career. Furthermore, a structured doctoral program, summer schools, workshops and seminars aim at scientists in academia and industry.
For further information on the center, see the Scientific Report 2010-2014.
Microorganisms are omnipresent in the biosphere. They occupy even the most exotic ecological niches and have developed an impressive variety of physiological and sensory functions that allow them to respond to and cope with environmental challenges. Some of these traits already provide the basis for large-scale production of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, for biofuels, food-processing, biosensing or bioremediation. Nevertheless, the vast natural toolbox developed by microorganisms over billions of years of evolution undoubtedly contains many undiscovered processes that wait to be explored and harnessed. The field of synthetic microbiology is at the center of this enterprise. Much of the fascination with this emergent field derives from the ability to freely combine myriads of genes, cellular processes, and biochemical functions in very much the same way as engineers combine different parts to form larger functional units and products.
However, the challenges encountered by synthetic biology in its early years revealed that many processes within cells are still poorly understood and that not all synthetic pathways sketched on the drawing board actually work in cells. A better quantitative, dynamic, and theoretical understanding of how organization and interaction of cellular components generates emergent properties is required before we can use natural systems as prototypes for the construction of predictable, streamlined and robust systems with novel properties. Vice versa, the process of building synthetic systems or of modifying natural systems facilitates understanding, as the performance of these constructs helps to understand their function. All of this is made possible by advances and new technologies in several disciplines, in particular in cell biology, genetics, molecular biology, structural biology, biochemistry, and computational biology.
Mai 2015 | Since 2008 the German federal state of Hessen has been using its LOEWE programme to invest in outstanding future-fit research initiatives. What started out as five LOEWE research centres and five LOEWE research clusters today consists of 46 cutting-edge research initiatives that were selected by high-profile committees in a competitive procedure for financial support. They are supplemented by 193 SME research initiatives which are supported through another of the programme’s funding lines and in which small and medium-sized enterprises and research facilities work together to develop innovative technologies and services.
LOEWE is an instrumental means of strengthening the research landscape in Hessen over the long term; it provides support for universities and research institutions in the development of their specific profiles and focuses. LOEWE funding creates the necessary conditions in terms of infrastructure and human resources for the acquisition of third-party funds from transregional research programmes and for the expansion or founding of research establishments benefiting from joint central and federal state government research funding. As cooperation between various institutions – universities, universities of applied sciences and non-university research establishments – is an important funding criterion, LOEWE encourages networking between the scientific establishments in Hessen. Not least, LOEWE is also keen to ensure that the business sector in Hessen – especially small and medium-sized enterprises – has a stake in the innovative power of scientific research by participating in technology transfer and joint skills development. In so doing, it also seeks to strengthen the labour market in Hessen by creating future-fit jobs.
From 2008 to 2014 LOEWE provided around € 520 million for cutting-edge research in Hessen. Again in the current legislative period until 2019, LOEWE remains the key element of research policy in Hessen.
For more details please visit the LOEWE webpage > > Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kunst.