Maartje Bastings receives a grant from Volkswagen Foundation

© 2020 EPFL

© 2020 EPFL

Professor Maartje Bastings, Director of the Programmable Biomaterials Laboratory, received 1.5 million euros for an interdisciplinary project.

Prof. Maartje Bastings, Director of the Programmable Biomaterials Laboratory (PBL) in the EPFL School of Engineering (STI), together with Ralf Jungmann, Research Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) of Biochemistry and Professor for Experimental Physics at the LMU Munich and Ian Parish from the University of Melbourne and Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne, have received 1.5 million euros in research funding from the Volkswagen Foundation.

The joint project of the three research groups, funded through the initiative ”Life? – A Fresh Scientific Approach to the Basic Principles of Lifefrom the Volkswagen Foundation, is aimed at unraveling the origin of multicellular life. The evolution of complex multicellular organisms 600 million years ago required sophisticated cell-cell communication systems to coordinate growth, differentiation, and tissue organization. This evolutionary leap is thought to have required a fundamental change in protein organization at the key interface for intercellular communication: the cell surface.

The team aims to elucidate how membrane organizing proteins, so-called tetraspanins, enabled the evolution of multicellularity. The researchers will use cutting-edge imaging techniques in combination with machine learning algorithms to analyze the complex pattern of cell surface proteins. Once defined, the team will then employ protein-decorated DNA origami scaffolds to block specific motifs and probe their functional importance in intercellular communication.

“We are extremely grateful for the support from the VW foundation”, says Bastings. “It will allow us to gain unprecedented insights into the complex spatial organization of molecules at the cell surface and the importance on multicellular life. We are excited to combine our expertise in materials engineering, imaging and cell biology to contribute to the understanding of the basic principles of life, eventually allowing us to engineer it.”