Paper published: “A marine bacterial enzymatic cascade degrades the algal polysaccharide ulvan”

© Wilfried THOMAS, Service Mer, Station Biologique de Roscoff (CNRS/Sorbonne université)

To say it up front: We do not want to adorn ourselves with borrowed plumes. But we are happy with Prof. Gurvan Michel - who thanks to the Bessel award given to him by the Alexander von Humboldt foundation is currently a member of our group - that his paper on an ulvan degradation locus in the genome of the marine bacterium Formosa agariphila has been accepted for publication in Nature Biological Chemistry.
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Mini-Symposium in Hochschule Geisenheim University

© AG Moerschbacher

This week, we had our yearly mini-symposium of the group, with the Bex-Biotech team as our guests. It had been organized by Rita Weyer, Max Linhorst, and Margareta Hellmann, supported as always by Cordula Kurth. For the first time, the mini-symposium was held at an institute of one of our alumni, Dr. Anne Vortkamp.
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Germany’s battery production research centre will be established in Münster

© BMBF/Hans-Joachim Rickel

Today, Germany’s federal Minister for research and education, Anja Karliczek, published her decision that the new research institute for battery production will be established in Münster, with 500 million Euro of support from the federal government matched by 200 million Euro from the land North-Rhine Westphalia.
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Dr. Marina Vortmann and Dr. Anna Niehues are on their ways

Today, two of our recent doctors said good bye, and we said thank you. Marina Vortmann had worked on the extraction and use of fungal chitin from fermentation waste mycelium in the German ZIM project F2F and in the European ERA-IB project funCHI. Anna Niehues had worked in the funCHI project and in the European FP7 project Nano3Bio, developing computational tools for the mass spectrometric analysis of partially acetylated chitosans and for the in silico modelling of chitin and chitosan modifying enzymes.
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September 20, 2017: Nano3Bio dissemination meeting on “The Future of Chitosans”
Directly following the final meeting of the Nano3Bio project, our Indian partners had invited some 500 colleagues and students from around the Hyderabad area to a one-day dissemination meeting entitled “The Future of Chitosans”. We - the Nano3Bio partners -presented our best results to them (to the extent that we can already disclose them) in oral and poster presentations, and they engaged us in vivid discussions - a very rewarding experience (and one that led to an estimated 10.000 selfies with us and Indian students!). Bruno Moerschbacher gave an overview of the project, its background and its goals, and different partners then presented their results concerning the different enzymes required for the biotechnological production of novel chitosans, namely chitin synthases, chitin deacetylases, transglycosylating chitinases, and engineered chitin glyco-synthases. In this, Lea Hembach from our group was in charge of presenting our work on chitin deacetylases. These talks were followed by examples of how chitosans and their nanoformulations can be used, e.g. for drug and gene delivery, for bone tissue transplantation, or for tumour diagnosis and therapy. Finally, the first comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of chitosan productions was presented. We were overwhelmed by the keen interest our results met, but even more so by the warm welcome we received, most vividly expressed by the huge and beautiful Nano3Bio Rangoli on the floor of the Science Building of University of Hyderabad, created for us by two biology MSc students who had spent weeks planning it, and then worked on it all night long.

September 17-19, 2017: Final meeting of Nano3Bio in Hyderabad

The European research project “NanoBioEngineering of BioInspired BioPolymers - Nano3Bio“ will come to an end on September 30. Final meetings always stir up mixed feelings, of having to say a (hopefully transient) good-bye to colleagues turned friends, and of being proud to showcase the progress achieved during the project. In fact, we had to report many “firsts” that we have achieved, such as the first in vitro productions of chitin and chitosan polymers, production and analysis of the first chitosan polymers with non-random patterns of acetylation, the first report of natural chitosan production in plants, the first comprehensive Life Cycle Assessment of chitosan productions, etc. These have already resulted in a number of patent applications and scientific publications, and more of both will come in the near future. To support this, the meeting was preceded by a workshop on Scientific Paper Writing conducted by Dr. Richard Twyman, from Twyman Research Management in the UK, who helped us improving our most recent manuscripts, as he has done so successfully in the past. Given the spectacular results obtained and the huge promises the novel Nano3Bio chitosans hold, we are confident that Nano3Bio will yet again be the foundation of at least one follow-up project, together with some of the trusted Nano3Bio partners and certainly also new ones which will bring in additional expertise and fresh ideas. Off to new shores…

September 19, 2017: New Graduate School for “grEEn” batteries funded

Today, Prof. Pinkwart, Minister of Economy, Innovation, Digitalisation, and Energy of NRW, handed over the grant agreement with which a consortium of research groups from Münster and Aachen/Jülich will set up a new Graduate School termed “grEEn” to develop more sustainable battery technologies. These are urgently needed e.g. in electric cars or to store solar energy - especially given the results from different recent studies which estimated that the environmental impact of producing the batteries for an electric car may equal that of driving this car for an average of eight years! grEEn is coordinated by the team of Münster Electrochemical Energy Technology - MEET in the Faculty of Chemistry, and it will involve three groups from our institute. In our group, two doctoral students, Rita Weyer and Max Linhorst, will produce different chitosans and chitosan derivatives as alternative electrode materials, to be tested for their performance in batteries in collaboration with MEET partners, in particular Dr. Gunther Brunklaus. This will be a challenging new area of research for us, focusing on the material properties rather than on the biological functionalities of chitosans. We trust that our experience gained in two decades of research into structure-function relationships of bioactive chitosans can also contribute to develop chitosan-based materials for the bioeconomy.

September 15, 2017: Eight new young scientists with a BSc in Biosciences
Today saw this year’s Bachelor celebration where around one hundred young scientists received their Bachelor certificates from the University of Münster, among them three who performed their undergraduate projects in our group, namely Margareta Hellmann, Anna Klaverkamp, and Jamie Lötzer, three who worked at our funCHI partner Plant Response Biotech in Madrid, namely Jos Cox, Jan Erdmann, and Max Evers, and two who worked in groups of the Medical Faculty here in Münster, namely Jan-Philipp Kamps and Sandra Schorn. Margareta worked with Stefan Cord-Landwehr to transfer his quantitative mass spectrometric sequencing of partially acetylated chitosan oligomers to that of partially methyl-esterified pectin. She managed to deliver the last decisive data which led to the acceptance of the respective manuscript on which is now a co-author. Anna performed, supported by Marten Neumann and Ratna Singh, knowledge-guided site-directed mutagenesis of the first ulvan binding domain and succeeded in identifying a range of amino acid residues which are involved in substrate binding. Jamie Lötzer worked with Philipp Lemke on our recently found synergistic effect of chitosan oligomers and polymers, an exciting observation which we think might be of great value if only we understood the effect better - and this is just what Jamie helped us to do. We are convinced that also both Anna’s and Jamie’s work will eventually become part of well-placed papers!