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20 April 2004

Heidelberg Research Magazine "Ruperto Carola 1/2004": Serendipity, Cells and Cell Portals

Title story by Blanche Schwappach: Diabetes — From Basic Understanding to Basic Treatment — Other topics: A Survey of Protein Energy Landscapes — Taxing without Overtaxing — New Agents against Hepatitis C — Rain, Steam and Speed: Impressionism in Painting and Literature

For over three decades, sulfonylurea agents have been used in the treatment of diabetes. Doctors knew that these agents frequently made it possible to counteract insulin deficiencies in patients with Type II diabetes for a period of several years. But no one had any idea how sulfonylurea agents function at the molecular level. In the title story of the latest issue of "Ruperto Carola", Blanche Schwappach of the Molecular Biology Centre of the University of Heidelberg describes how serendipity helps scientists make discoveries they never bargained for — and how subsequent systematic work can inveigle Nature into yielding up some astounding answers to scientific enigmas. Other topics in the magazine: A Survey of Protein Energy Landscapes — Taxing without Overtaxing — New Agents against Hepatitis C — Rain, Steam and Speed: Impressionism in Painting and Literature

Editorial: Vice-Rector Angelos Chaniotis gets his teeth into recent statements by two leading German politicians

In the Editorial of "Ruperto Carola 1/2004", Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis has some mordant criticism to level at recent statements made by two leading German politicians. "Professors will have to work harder too" was the title of an interview given to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper by the new higher-education minister of Bavaria. In the course of it he says: "If we bump up working hours to 42 for the civil service, the universities will not be exempted. Writing expert opinions or publications does not count as part of these hours. It is not provided for in contracts with the state." Chaniotis' reply: "If we take this statement literally, it spells the end of the university as a research location in Bavaria."

The Vice-Rector goes on to add that in future the German Research Council should avoid enlisting the expert opinion of academics from Bavarian universities, unless they pen their opinions in their leisure time free of charge. Organisers of international conferences would do better not to invite colleagues from Bavarian universities as "in accordance with the peculiar interpretation of Bavarian University Law by its supreme representative", attending conferences and presenting research findings are not part of the contract concluded between professors and the state. "I ask myself what professor working 42 hours a week will offer his services for university administration and applications for external funding," continues Chaniotis in satirical vein. Nothing would be easier, he concludes, than to point up the absurd implications of Herr Goppel's statements.

The Federal higher-education minister comes in for even more stick from Chaniotis. "Universities must be more international," Edelgard Bulmahn wrote in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper. She went on to say that progress had been made in this respect, which was no coincidence as "the internationalisation of higher education is a key factor in the policies of the present Federal Government." Institutions of higher education in Germany "can count on our support in enhancing their presence on the international education market and attracting more students and more top-flight scholars and scientists from abroad." She also quotes figures, indicating that she wants the share of foreign students bumped up from 8 to 10 percent by 2008.

Chaniotis confronts the minister with reality, as seen by the University of Heidelberg with a proportion of international students topping the 20% mark. The biggest obstacles to internationalisation, he says, are lack of accommodation, cut-downs in the budgets for the Goethe Institutes and the German Academic Exchange Service, the ban on students' fees and the absurdities in the German law on aliens. "Here the Federal Government needs to invest more money rather than wagging a reproving finger. Above all, students from abroad should not elect to come and study in Germany because it does not cost them anything but because of the level of academic excellence. And you don't get excellence for nothing. Without the introduction of students' fees — an innovation that requires careful consideration — German universities will not be able to compete with the world's best universities for very much longer."

A Survey of Protein Energy Landscapes

Many essential cell processes involve groups of atoms moving with or against one another in proteins. These movements enable the atoms to find their way through "energy landscapes" and negotiate valleys and summits. Computer simulation makes it possible to take part in a survey of protein energy landscapes. Jeremy C. Smith of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing describes functional movement of this kind and explains how information inside the protein gets from one place to another.

Taxing without Overtaxing

What kind of tax system would impose a moderate and equitable burden on all taxpayers? Paul Kirchhof of the Institute of Financial and Taxation Law points a way out of this impenetrable jungle. Taxable income, he insists, should never be taxed more than 25 percent. Such a simplified tax system would be an essential contribution to a culture of liberty in Germany and equip the country for competition in the world markets.

New Agents against Hepatitis C

About 170 million people all over the world are infected by the hepatitis C virus. The illness is insidious, frequently going undetected for years until cirrhosis or tumours develop in the liver. At present there is no effective vaccine against hepatitis C nor any satisfactory medication to be pitted against it. Ralf Bartenschlager, head of the new Molecular Virology Department at the Institute of Hygiene, describes how basic research contributes to finding new medication for hepatitis C.

Rain, Steam and Speed

Ut pictura poesis. Inquiries into what painting and literature have in common have frequently been undertaken under this heading (a quote from Horace). Arnold Rothe, professor of Romance literature, reopens the debate and examines the relationship between painting and literature with reference to the Saint-Lazare railway station in Paris and its portrayal by Claude Monet and Emile Zola.

In the section "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation", Wilfried Härle introduces the winners of the Ruprecht-Karl Prizes and the Fritz Grunebaum Prize 2003. The subsequent brief report by Karsten Rippe of the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics is entitled "The Language of Histon Proteins". This is followed by an overview of the most generously endowed projects financed by external funding. The magazine rounds off with an article by Wilhelm Kuhlmann. Entitled "Victims of Cynical Cluelessness", it discusses working hours for non-professorial university teaching staff.

"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost EUR 5 plus postage. Like the special support subscription (EUR 30 for four issues) it can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 10 57 60, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available in the entrance area of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and the complete articles of earlier issues (in German) go to http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/publikat.html

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de
http://www.uni-heidelberg.de/presse/index.html


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