No Life Without Iron and Sulfur

Wednesday, 25. March 2015

UniCat Professor Silke Leimkühler is coordinating a new DFG Priority Program on the impact of iron-sulfur clusters on enzyme activities

Silke Leimkühler © Karla Fritze

Prof. Dr. Silke Leimkühler (Research Fields E2 and E3) from the Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, University of Potsdam, will be coordinating one of the German Research Foundation’s (DFG) 18 new Priority Programs.

The new Priority Program concerns itself with the composition and functioning of special metal-containing enzymes that are responsible for important metabolic functions in all living things, and without which no life would be possible. The researchers will study in more detail the influence of iron-sulfur clusters on enzyme activities at the cellular level. Preliminary experimental work had shown that the metal compounds are an important prerequisite for the synthesis and function of essential metabolic pathways in cells.

"The iron-sulfur clusters appeared very early in evolution and have an important key function in respiration, photosynthesis, and the metabolism of nitrogen, carbon and sulfur compounds in the cells, as well as in hydrogen production," said Leimkühler. The observed enzymes are not only vital for plants, animals, and human beings, but could in the future also become important for energy production, because in addition to nitrogen, they also fix hydrogen - a possible future energy source.

The fundamental research in the new Priority Program, thus, also provides information about a potential biotechnological application of the molecules. "For this, we need to first understand how these enzymes are assembled, what role the metals play, and how these influence the activity of the proteins," explains Silke Leimkühler.

The DFG’s Priority Programs

The 18 new Priority Programs were chosen by the DFG from a total of 87 submitted concepts. They cover the entire professional spectrum from the humanities and social sciences, through the life and natural sciences to engineering, and explicitly encourage young scientists. The new programs will begin their work in 2016. They are characterized by a highly interdisciplinary approach and the use of innovative methods. In the first three-year funding period, a total of approximately 105 million Euros are available for comprehensive research projects.

A particular hallmark of a Priority Program is the interregional cooperation of the participating scientists. Priority Programs are established when coordinated support for the relevant field promises additional scientific gain. A Priority Program is typically funded for a period of six years. To participate in a Priority Program, the DFG invites interested scientists to submit applications on specific dates.

Text adapted from Heike Kampe, Press Office of the University of Potsdam.