Molecular Developmental Biology

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How do we age, and how can we stay healthy in old age? Until the 1990s scientists assumed that the aging process of biological systems was controlled by only a few basic molecular mechanisms. We now know that aging can, in fact, be ascribed to a complex network of reaction pathways within cells. They trigger time-dependent, irreversible changes of physiological functions. In order to determine which factors are involved and what their impact is, Professor Heinz D. Osiewacz conducts research on two simply organised model organisms, the fungi Saccharomyces cerevisae (yeast) and Podospora anserina. Their short life span of only a few weeks allows a relatively rapid assessment of the effect of targeted experimental changes. Osiewacz discovered that various molecular processes in mitochondria, the "power plants" of the eukaryotic cell, contribute largely to the aging process. Highly reactive molecules containing oxygen (reactive oxygen species, ROS) are produced when high-energy adenosine triphosphate (ATP) is generated. Although ROS are necessary for organisms to develop, in the long term they have a damaging effect. If mechanisms to protect the cell are no longer able to repair or compensate for the cumulative damage, the process of programmed cell death (apoptosis) results in the death of the individual. Using targeted mutations of fungi, genes that influence these processes, and hence contribute to an increase in life span, could be characterised. In part, these manipulations lead to a significant increase in "healthy years of life" without physiological impairment.

In many cases the experiments identify the fundamental mechanisms of aging, which have been preserved in various biological systems throughout evolution. This realisation is the foundation for Osiewacz's research objective. "In my research I want to reveal factors to make the aging process as healthy as possible, and also to encourage the struggle against age-related diseases for humans", he says. He conveys appropriate research approaches and methods to students in project-oriented teaching.

Brief Biography

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After completion of his course of studies in biology at the Ruhr University of Bochum, Heinz D. Osiewacz completed a doctorate on the structure elucidation of a mobile mitochondrial intron in Podospora anserina. He subsequently conducted a research project at the Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, U.S.A. From 1990 to 1994 he was the Head of the "Molecular Biology of Aging Processes" Research Programme at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg. In 1993 he received his Habilitation in botany at the University of Bochum. In 1994, Osiewacz was appointed professor at the Goethe University Frankfurt. From 2005 to 2010 he coordinated the integrated "MiMage" Project, which is sponsored by the European Commission. Since 2010 he has coordinated the "GerontoMitoSys" Research Project, which is funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Osiewacz is a member of the "Centre for Membrane Proteomics" and of the "Macromolecular Complexes" Cluster of Excellence at the Goethe University Frankfurt.

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Heinz D. Osiewacz
Institute of Molecular
Biological Sciences
Max-von-Laue-Str. 9
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Germany
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 29263
E-Mail: Osiewacz@bio.uni-frankfurt.de
www.bio.uni-frankfurt.de