Background of the Groups


Biocomplexity Group, NBI (Mogens H. Jensen - Speaker): The Biocomplexity group (see Theoretical Modelling and Computer Models of life - CMOL) has through more than ten years been pioneering studies of complex systems on a number of different research topics, ranging from chaotic and fractal phenomena to cell mechanics and genetic networks. The group was previously connected with the Center for Chaos and Turbulence Studies" (CATS) and members of this center have contributed with some of the most important and mostly cited discoveries within complex systems research. Through the last five years, the main focus in the research activity has shifted towards topics in biological physics. Through a very active recruitment plan by the Niels Bohr Institute, the group has recently been signicantly strengthened on the biological side through employment of three new associate professors, Kim Sneppen in theoretical biological physics, and Lene Oddershede and Thomas Heimburg (Membrane Biophysics Group) in experimental biophysics. In 2003, three new laboratories at the Niels Bohr Institute have been renovated with the specific allocation of experimental research in biophysics. Altogether, the group consists of around 25 researchers and graduate students and among these scientists, the majority is involved in biophysics research. This new profile of the group, with three new and very promising associate professors in biophysics and a large group of biophysical research students, gives a perfect platform for the group to play an essential and very active role in the proposed VKR Center for Biophysics. On the theoretical side, the group has an international reputation on research in modelling of biological systems, ranging from evolution of species to the complicated dynamical network between interacting proteins in a cell. It is envisaged that modelling of biological systems will be a main activity in the proposed center. The group thus plays an essential role in all of the five main research themes of the VKR Center for Biophysics, with the main emphasis from the experimental point of view on Biological membranes and lipid bilayers, and Single-molecule biophysics, and from the theoretical point of view on Folding and transport of proteins and Biological information- and control networks.

MEMPHYS - Center for Biomembrane Physics, SDU (Ole G. Mouritsen - coordinator): The MEMPHYS group (see www.memphys.sdu.dk) has for more than ten years been a leading biophysics group in Denmark. From its beginning, and with solid roots in statistical physics, soft-condensed matter physics, and computational physics, this group has specialized into the physics and physical chemistry of biological membranes, and how membranes interact with proteins, enzymes, drugs, and other solutes. The group has made important discoveries concerning the ešect of cholesterol on membranes, the interaction between integral membrane proteins and lipid bilayers, as well as the action of phospholipases on lipid membranes. Some of the research of the group has formed the business idea behind LiPlasome Pharma A/S, an innovation company that works on a new liposome-based system for targeted drug delivery in cancer therapy. The group, which counts 25-30 researchers and research students carries out a parallel experimental and theoretical research program using a number of different theoretical and simulational methods and an arsenal of different experimental techniques. The group has over the years been supported by a number of Danish and international public as well as private founding agencies and since 2002 by the Danish National Research Foundation. The director of the group is also director of the National Graduate Proposal for a VKR Center of Excellence 7 School of Molecular Biophysics that covers all major biophysics programs in Denmark. The group has in-house state-of-the-art instrumentation for experiments and computations within biophysics as well as access to nearby facilities for live-cell biological and biochemical experiments. The group ošers itself as part of the platform for the proposed center. The new area of research which a new grant will open up for the group has been chosen to be biogenesis and sub-cellular dynamics. It is believed that this new area will provide maximal synergy in the network and to constitute the best way of exploiting the expertise currently present in MEMPHYS (Dr. Matthias Weiss). Although not directly receiving center support for it, the MEMPHYS group is actively engaged in several of the other main research themes of the Center, specifically Folding and transport of proteins, Biological membranes and lipid bilayers, and Single-molecule biophysics.

The Biophysics Group, AAU (Daniel Otzen - coordinator): The foundation of the group is long experience within folding and stability of water-soluble proteins, based on Daniel Otzen's sojourn with one of the world leaders within protein folding (Alan Fersht, Cambridge, UK). Since the inception of the group in 2000, it has focused on three bacterial membrane proteins and their biophysical properties in lipids and detergents. The group has been able to bring to light to fundamental aspects of the proteins' folding patterns, which are being extended by extensive mutagenesis studies. The group also has extensive knowledge of the kinetics of interactions between water-soluble proteins with detergents, which provides a basis for a deeper understanding of membrane proteins' absolute requirement for amphiphiles. The group also works with fibrillation and other types of misfolding of physiologically relevant proteins. The group has introduced and exemplified the concept of gatekeeper residues as key players in the fibrillation process, a concept which is receiving increasing attention in the fibrillation field. Together with Assistant Professor Reinhard Wimmer, the group is using NMR to study the structure of membrane proteins and fibrils. The group is supported by the Danish Research Councils and the Lundbeck Foundation and is also collaborating with Novo Nordisk A/S and Leo-Pharma A/S (co-űnanced PhD-stipends). Daniel Otzen heads AAU's doctoral school of biotechnology, and collaborates closely with the Graduate School of Molecular Biophysics and other schools of biotechnology in order to bolster the scientiűc environment for PhD-students in Denmark. The VKR Center for Biophysics expected to stimulate the group's research within: (i) Protein- protein and protein-amphiphile interactions stabilizing membrane proteins (based on studies of fragment association and force-pulling studies). (ii) Factors defining membrane protein identity, i.e. how is a membrane protein turned into a water-soluble protein. (iii) The relationship between in vivo misfolding of membrane proteins and their in vitro properties, using human aquaporin 2 as a model system.