UniversityUniversität Heidelberg Enters Cluster of Excellence Competition with Two New Cluster Initiatives and Two Existing Clusters

Press Release No. 16/2024
2 February 2024

A decision on the four full proposals from Heidelberg will be made next year

With draft proposals for two new cluster initiatives, Heidelberg University has taken the first hurdle in the competition for support from the Cluster of Excellence funding line in the context of the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments. After the review by specialist panels including international experts, the way is now free for Ruperto Carola in the months to come to expand the draft cluster proposal “SynthImmune – Engineering Immune Function with Synthetic Biology” and the draft cluster proposal “GreenRobust: Understanding Robustness of Plant Systems from Molecules to Ecosystems” – the GreenRobust initiative with the partners in Tübingen and Hohenheim – into full proposals. The two new cluster initiatives and Heidelberg University’s existing clusters will submit these for final selection in the coming year; a decision on the approval of the Clusters of Excellence will be made in May 2025.

Prof. Dr Frauke Melchior, Rector of Heidelberg University, stated: “I am delighted that our academics succeeded in gaining approval for two new convincing draft cluster proposals in the first selection phase of this challenging competition, and I congratulate all those involved on this wonderful first-stage victory. Today’s success is both an incentive and an obligation to invest all our energies in developing the four full proposals, so that we may also succeed in the decisive final stage of the competition.” GreenRobust is a joint initiative with the University of Tübingen and the University of Hohenheim. The two ongoing Heidelberg Clusters of Excellence, STRUCTURES and “3D Matter Made to Order” – the 3DMM2O cluster is operated jointly with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology – were not required to submit a draft proposal, but can lodge a renewal proposal directly. These two proposals will be submitted in mid-August 2024 at the same time as the full proposals for the two new initiatives.

The Excellence Strategy programme is jointly implemented by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Science and Humanities Council (WR). It comprises the two funding lines Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence. The precondition for eligibility to take part in the Universities of Excellence line is that two clusters succeeded in gaining approval in the competition. In the current round of decisions, the DFG and WR have selected 41 out of 143 draft cluster proposals for submission as full proposals. A total of 37 universities are involved.

The cluster initiatives that will now develop a full proposal are:

SynthImmune – Engineering Immune Function with Synthetic Biology 

The human immune system is capable of recognising and eliminating pathogens and even tumour cells. In many infectious diseases such as AIDS and malaria, as well as cancers such as pancreatic cancer and brain tumours, this immune control is undermined. In a transdisciplinary approach, the SynthImmune cluster initiative aims to identify essential functions of immune cells and use synthetic biology and novel materials to produce completely new complex structures from scratch that perform these functions without infections or cancer being able to deactivate them. The long-term goal of the initiative is to develop a new class of immunotherapeutics for difficult-to-treat infectious diseases and cancers.

GreenRobust: Understanding Robustness of Plant Systems from Molecules to Ecosystems

Owing to their way of life, plants have had to develop particularly effective and versatile strategies in order to cope with short- and long-term changes in their environment. The cluster initiative GreenRobust from the field of plant biology will examine plant responses when adapting to external influences. The goals are to understand the organisational principles of plant robustness, i.e. the maintenance of function despite perturbations, and to deliver roadmaps for the sustainable management of plant-based agriculture and ecosystems. The initiative is a joint project with the universities of Tübingen and Hohenheim.