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25.03.2015

Protein design – A construction kit full of opportunities

Max Planck scientist Dr. Birte Höcker receives ERC Consolidator Grant


Tübingen, March 25, 2015. It was a very successful application for Birte Höcker. The researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology has now received an ERC Consolidator Grant and prize money of nearly 2 Million Euros from the European Research Council (ERC). She and her team can now follow up on new ideas about protein design, their scientific discipline.

Höcker, a biochemist, studies the evolution of proteins and uses her knowledge to construct new ones. She could already show that the diversity of proteins formed from smaller fragments, which led her to a new scientific approach: Use these parts and recombine them according to a construction kit. Fittingly, her ERC project application is called “Protein Lego”.

“With this project application we follow a completely new approach to protein design”, says Birte Höcker. “We identify stable fragments of well-known protein structures, recombine them, and so we see new complex and functional proteins coming to life.” The scientist is fascinated by the composition of these essential proteins. “In the first place, the activity of proteins makes life possible”, states Höcker. “And I am particularly interested in all these little details of their structures – how they differ from each other and why they fold the way they do.”

The deeper understanding of protein structures can help to build tailor-made proteins for use in biotechnology, medicine and synthetic biology. Protein design has a broad application range, for example creating new enzymes for manufacturing fine chemicals or degrading toxic material, for new protein based drugs or even as biosensors as tools in basic research. “Currently we focus primarily on the basics of this technology”, Höcker underlines. Together with her research group she wants to lay the foundation, so that tailor-made proteins for specific applications can be constructed in the near future.

The ERC Grants are the most coveted awards in the European research landscape. Each year the European Research Council supports upcoming scientists of any nationality with Consolidator Grants. The awardees have to carry out excellent research projects and should have finished their doctoral degree at least seven years ago.


About Birte Höcker:
Dr. Birte Höcker finished her doctoral degree in biochemistry in 2003 at the University of Cologne, before she worked as a postdoc at the Duke University Medical Center in the USA. Since 2006, she is an Independent Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany.


Contact:
Nadja Winter (Public Relations)
Phone: +49 (0) 7071 601-444
E-mail: presse-eb(at)tuebingen.mpg.de


About us:
The Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science in Germany consists of 83 research institutes. The Max Planck Campus in Tübingen employs more than 800 staff members and comprises the MPI for Developmental Biology, the MPI for Biological Cybernetics, the MPI for Intelligent Systems, and the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory.


ERC Logo

ERC Logo

Dr. Birte Höcker (Credit: Jörg Abendroth / MPI for Developmental Biology)

Dr. Birte Höcker (Credit: Jörg Abendroth / MPI for Developmental Biology)

The scientist is fascinated by the composition of protein structures. (Credit: Birte Höcker / MPI for Developmental Biology)

The scientist is fascinated by the composition of protein structures. (Credit: Birte Höcker / MPI for Developmental Biology)