Within Germany, the Heidelberg Life Science community features an unparalleled number of internationally renowned institutions in very close spatial proximity. Heidelberg is thus home to a critical mass of scientific and technological expertise unique to Germany, and a work force that makes it ideal for a large interdisciplinary cluster aiming at understanding the structure, function and evolution of subcellular and supracellular networks.
The Cluster of Excellence CellNetworks, founded in 2006, made use of this opportunity by assembling a large number of distinguished groups from Heidelberg molecular life science institutions, as well as specialists from mathematics, computational sciences, chemistry and physics to tackle fundamental questions surrounding network structures and architecture, dynamics and regulation. CellNetworks benefitted tremendously from the combination of molecular research and computational approaches and led to a better understanding of cellular processes. A bottom-up process in defining future research topics for special funding within CellNetworks resulted in six exciting projects, the results of which leveraged three new CRCs and one DFG-funded network for electron microscopy.
The CellNetworks community unites groups from six faculties of Heidelberg University and five non-university institutions, including the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ), the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies (HITS), as well as the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research (MPImF) and the Central Institute of Mental Health (ZI) in Mannheim. These groups carry out joint research and contribute to the excellent reputation of the Heidelberg Life Sciences in Germany, advancing research on the behavior and dynamic changes of complex biological networks and a systematic understanding of the regulation mechanisms.
A prerequisite of the success of CellNetworks was the recruitment of excellent scientists, at disciplinary interfaces (professorship for protein evolution), or specialists in cutting-edge technology (professorships for cryo-electron microscopy and proteomics). Furthermore, ten junior research groups funded by the cluster, and ten junior groups funded by the Chica and Heinz Schaller Foundation, have created an exciting atmosphere for the next generation of scientists. The CellNetworks members and particularly the new colleagues stimulated the technology-oriented development and dynamic integration of new research questions into the Heidelberg molecular life sciences research portfolio. In parallel, the development of central Core Facilities for technical service, project consultancy and on-the-job-training became an important resource and hub for scientists of different disciplines and groups within the university and our partner institutions.
The CellNetworks community thus was, is and will be a strong driving force for the integration of research in the molecular biosciences in Heidelberg across disciplinary and institutional boundaries. It created and continuously improved high-end core infrastructure and expertise, as well as support for computational approaches. As a result, CellNetworks will continue as a central platform of the university to support Core Facilities and collaborative research in the life sciences.