Synthetic cells with compartments. Magenta shows the lipid membrane, cyan shows the fluorescently tagged membrane-free sub-compartments. Love et al. / MPI-CBG

Dresden researchers engineer a minimal synthetic cellular system to study basic cell function. Cells are the basic unit of life. They provide an environment for the fundamental molecules of life to interact, for reactions to take place and sustain life. However, the biological cell is very complicated, making it difficult to understand what takes place inside it. One way to tackle this biological problem is to design a synthetic minimal cell as a simpler system compared to biological cells. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG) in Dresden and the Max-Planck-Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (MPICI) in Potsdam accomplished such an engineering challenge by building a synthetic cell that can encapsulate fundamental biochemical reactions.

The newly developed material conducts heat well along the layers, while at the same time providing thermal insulation vertically. © MPI-P, Lizenz CC-BY-SA

Styrofoam or copper - both materials have very different properties with regard to their ability to conduct heat. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz and the University of Bayreuth have now jointly developed and characterized a novel, extremely thin and transparent material that has different thermal conduction properties depending on the direction. While it can conduct heat extremely well in one direction, it shows good thermal insulation in the other direction. 
Thermal insulation and thermal conduction play a crucial role in our everyday lives - from computer processors, where it is important to dissipate heat as quickly as possible, to houses, where good insulation is essential for energy costs. Often extremely light, porous materials such as polystyrene are used for insulation, while heavy materials such as metals are used for heat dissipation. A newly developed material, which scientists at the MPI-P have jointly developed and characterized with the University of Bayreuth, can now combine both properties.

Complex supramolecular nano-structure on a silver surface. The chiral pattern is controlled by hydrogen-bonding between hydroxamic acids decorating both ends of the rod-like building block. Image: B. Zhang / TUM

Nanoscience can arrange minute molecular entities into nanometric patterns in an orderly manner using self-assembly protocols. Scientists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have functionalized a simple rod-like building block with hydroxamic acids at both ends. They form molecular networks that not only display the complexity and beauty of mono-component self-assembly on surfaces; they also exhibit exceptional properties.

Crystals of synthetic molecular ruby. photo/©: Steffen Treiling

Using base metals instead of expensive precious metals / Chromium in a designed environment exhibits an exceptionally long lifetime of its electronically excited state and potentially allows for sustainable photocatalytic applications. Sustainable chemical applications need to be able to employ renewable energy sources, renewable raw materials, and Earth-abundant elements. However, to date many techniques have only been possible with the use of expensive precious metals or rare earth metals, the extraction of which can have serious environmental impacts.

A ray of hope for even more efficient lithium-ion batteries: A solid electrolyte (here LiTi2(PO4)3, Li-green, Ti-blue, P-purple, O-red) with “migration paths” for lithium ions (yellow strips). © Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM

High-performance, long-lasting energy storage devices are crucially important for many future-oriented technologies: e.g. for electromobility, for mobile end devices such as tablets and smartphones as well as for the efficient use of energy from renewable sources. Dr. Daniel Mutter from the Fraunhofer IWM was able to clarify what the chemical composition of solid ceramic electrolytes should be in order to ensure good performance in lithium-ion batteries. The research was published in the Journal of Applied Physics. Such solid electrolytes are more environmentally friendly than traditional liquid electrolytes and could make lithium-ion batteries significantly safer and more efficient.

As the loading with curcumin (yellow) increases, the dissolution rate of the containers made of polymeric micelles (blue) decreases. (Picture: Ann-Christin Pöppler)

Nanocontainer for drugs can have their pitfalls: If they are too heavily loaded, they will only dissolve poorly. Why this happens is now reported by a Würzburg research group in "Angewandte Chemie". Nanocapsules and other containers can transport drugs through a patient's body directly to the origin of the disease and release them there in a controlled manner. Such sophisticated systems are occasionally used in cancer therapy. Because they work very specifically, they have fewer side effects than drugs that are distributed throughout the entire organism.

Energy transport in biomimetic nanotubes (left) and a three-dimensional spectrum (right). Bjoern Kriete (l.) / Stefan Mueller (r.)

It is crucial for photovoltaics and other technical applications, how efficiently energy spreads in a small volume. With new methods, the path of energy in the nanometer range can now be followed precisely. Plants and bacteria lead the way: They can capture the energy of sunlight with light-harvesting antennas and transfer it to a reaction centre. Transporting energy efficiently and in a targeted fashion in a minimum of space – this is also of interest to mankind. If scientists were to master it perfectly, they could significantly improve photovoltaics and optoelectronics.

Left: Schematic illustration for the SMAIS method for 2D polymer synthesis, Right: High-resolution transmission electron microscopic image for 2D polyimide Left: by Marc Hermann, TRICKLABOR), Right: by Dr. Haoyuan Qi, Uni Ulm

Scientists at the Center for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed) at TU Dresden have succeeded in synthesizing sheet-like 2D polymers by a bottom-up process for the first time. A novel synthetic reaction route was developed for this purpose. The 2D polymers consist of only a few single atomic layers and, due to their very special properties, are a promising material for use in electronic components and systems of a new generation. The research result is a collaborative work of several groups at TU Dresden and Ulm University and was published this week in two related articles in the scientific journals "Nature Chemistry" and "Nature Communications".

A monolayer of organic molecules is placed in the focused light field and replies to this illumination by fluorescence, embedding all information about the invisible properties. Pascal Runde

Physicists and chemists at the University of Münster (Germany) have jointly succeeded in developing a so-called nano-tomographic technique which is able to detect the typically invisible properties of nano-structured fields in the focus of a lens. Such a method may help to establish nano-structured light landscapes as a tool for material machining, optical tweezers, or high-resolution imaging. The study was published in "Nature Communications".

Time-lapse images show that the enzyme ‘breathes’ during turnover: it expands and contracts aligned with the catalytic sub-steps. Its two halves communicate via a string of water molecules. Jörg Harms / MPSD

Researchers from the Department of Atomically Resolved Dynamics of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg, the University of Potsdam (both in Germany) and the University of Toronto (Canada) have pieced together a detailed time-lapse movie revealing all the major steps during the catalytic cycle of an enzyme. Surprisingly, the communication between the protein units is accomplished via a water-network akin to a string telephone. This communication is aligned with a ‘breathing’ motion, that is the expansion and contraction of the protein.

Left: how the t-MALDI-2-MS imaging method works. Right: an example, in which the complex structure of a mouse’s cerebellum is shown by means of the superimposition of three ion signals. Nature Research/Marcel Niehaus

Scientists at Münster University investigate cells using dual-beam laser mass spectrometry:Cells are the basic building blocks of life. The chemical composition of cells can be determined by mass spectrometry. Scientists at the University of Münster present a method which has improved the spatial resolution of “MALDI” mass spectrometry by around one-thousandth of a millimetre. The results have been published in "Nature Methods".

Porous silicon layers for more efficient lithium-ion batteries. © Marynchenko Oleksandr / shutterstock, Photo montage: Fraunhofer FEP

Within the scope of the project PoSiBat (funding reference 100275833), Fraunhofer FEP scientists were able to develop a non-toxic and efficient manufacturing process for porous silicon layers. The results of the recently completed project will be presented at the Thin Film Technology for Energy Systems workshop at V 2019 and at the Fraunhofer FEP booth No. 22 (October 8 –10, 2019, in Dresden, Germany). Lithium-ion batteries are well established due to their good properties. They have a higher energy density than other batteries. Therefore, they are used in cameras, watches, mobile devices and especially for electric vehicles. However, from a technical point of view they still offer a high potential for improving and optimizing of battery cells.

Albumin-coated nano-diamonds can cross the blood-brain barrier and be used for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes in the brain.

The recording of images of the human brain and its therapy in neurodegenerative diseases is still a major challenge in current medical research. The so-called blood-brain barrier, a kind of filter system of the body between the blood system and the central nervous system, constrains the supply of drugs or contrast media that would allow therapy and image acquisition. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have now produced tiny diamonds, so-called "nanodiamonds", which could serve as a platform for both the therapy and diagnosis of brain diseases.

Two CD34+ stem cells containing carbon nanoparticles (coloured magenta); the cell nuclei can be seen in blue. The researchers found that the nanoparticles are encapsulated in the cell lysosomes. HHU / Stefan Fasbender

Publication in Scientific Reports

Carbon nanoparticles are a promising tool for biomedical applications, for example for targeted transportation of biologically active compounds into cells. A team of researchers from the Physics, Medicine and Chemistry departments at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (HHU) has now examined whether these particles are potentially dangerous for the organism and how cells cope with them once they have been incorporated. The findings of the interdisciplinary study have just been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Cryo-EM structure of the T. thermophilus V/A-type ATP synthase. The background shows wind-powered water pump. (c) by IST Austria, 2019

IST Austria scientists determine the first structure of a cell’s rotary engine using state-of-art microscopy. Cells rely on protein complexes known as ATP synthases or ATPases for their energy needs – adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules power most of the processes sustaining life. Structural biologist Professor Leonid Sazanov and his research group from the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) in Klosterneuburg, Austria have now determined the first atomic structure of the representative of the V/A-ATPase family, filling in the gap in the evolutionary tree of these essential molecular machines. These results obtained using the latest cryo-electron microscopy methods revealed a turbine or water mill similar structure of the enzyme and have now been published in the journal Science.

The lifetime of programmable structural dynamics can be infinitely varied in this DNA-based system. Photo: AG Walther

Programmable structural dynamics successful for first time in self-organizing fiber structures.
Cells assemble dynamically: their components are continuously exchanging and being replaced. This enables the structures to adapt easily to different situations, and by rearranging the components to respond to stimuli faster, to renew or to form just on demand. The microtubules, a scaffold structure made of protein fibers that can be found in the cytoplasm of the cells of algae, plants, fungi, animals and humans, are one such dynamic mesh. Because of their self-organizing structure, these fibers constantly form and degrade at the same time, thereby actively supporting the cell in complex tasks such as cell division or locomotion. The fibers require energy to form and maintain such dynamic states.