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14 November 2001

Heidelberg Research Magazine "Ruperto Carola 3/2001": Stem Cells — Fascinating All-Rounders

New issue just out — Title story by Anthony Ho and Konrad Beyreuther: The arduous quest for the stem-cell "miracle" — Other topics: Unique medieval manuscripts new on the internet — What papyri tell us about everyday life 2000 years ago — Molecular midfielders: an unusual family of growth factors — Heidelberg in four dimensions


Stem cells. Only a few months back, no one except a few experts had ever heard of them, today they are all over the headlines. Can we really expect medical miracles from them? In the title story of the new issue of Heidelberg University's research magazine, Ruperto Carola 3/2001, Anthony Ho of the University's Internal Medicine Hospital and Konrad Beyreuther of the Molecular Biology Centre tell us what stem cells are and the purposes they can be used for. One thing the authors make very clear is that there is a long way to go before stem cells can perform the miracles attributed to them. First comes the arduous task of investigating their biological foundations. Other articles in the new issue range from art history and papyrology to neuroanatomy and geo-informatics.

Vice-rector Chaniotis in the Editorial: "The challenge posed by the terrorist attacks also affects the University in its primary function as a place of learning and research"

In the Editorial, vice-rector Prof. Dr. Angelos Chaniotis discusses the consequences of the terrorist attacks of September 11 for the University of Heidelberg. Everyday life at the University, Prof. Chaniotis contends, is no longer the same, and he goes on to enlarge on the ethical and administrative problems generated by the Rasterfahndung search methods and their data-protection implications: "The duty to cooperate with the authorities in preventing criminal activities, while at the same time living up to our responsibility to international students and upholding the role of the University as a locus of free exchange of opinion, is a challenge of hitherto unparalleled dimensions and intensity."

This challenge also extends to the primary function of the University as a place of learning and research. It poses questions about the historical and cultural roots of terrorism, the economic consequences and psychological repercussions of the September attacks, the dangers of biological weapons and the intentional spreading of potentially fatal diseases, data protection, the sources of political conflict and the best ways of coping with it, and the advantages and disadvantages of large-scale criminal investigation methods. Given the searing actuality of these issues, there is an urgent need for informed opinion based on the kind of academic and scientific knowledge and expertise at the disposal of historians, natural scientists, political scientists, jurists, economists, sociologists, and experts in the fields of Islamic studies, religious studies and the behavioural sciences.

Chaniotis: "All too often German universities have been pilloried for their ivory tower stance." The verdict on the accuracy of this assessment will depend not least on the way they square up to the challenges posed by the latest terrorist attacks, says Chaniotis. "The University of Heidelberg has taken the initiative in conducting a public debate on these questions. The first step in this direction was a panel discussion involving representatives of various disciplines, the student body, the University's International Relations Office, the City of Heidelberg Foreign Residents' Council and the police."

Research at the click of a mouse

Since early 2001 the German Research Council has been engaged in an ambitious new project. Its aim is to digitize the texts and images of 27 lavishly illustrated late-medieval manuscripts and post them on the Internet for research purposes. This opens up hitherto undreamed-of prospects for historians. In the first main article of the new issue, Maria Effinger of the University Library and Liselotte Saurma-Jeltsch of the Institute of Art History discuss the culture-historical significance of the precious 15th century manuscripts and outline the exciting research issues that digital availability can be expected to help resolve.

What papyri tell us about everyday life 2000 years ago

On the 14th of September 98 AD, an Egyptian by the name of Petesuchos appealed to the strategist Claudius Areius for help in tracking down a man who had absconded without paying his leasehold rent. The reason we know this is that it was recorded on a papyrus. And this papyrus is accessible for anyone interested in the subject via the Internet address The address is the gateway to the "Heidelberg Complete Catalogue of Greek Papyri from Egypt", a database that encompasses all the relevant texts in existence anywhere. Dieter Hagedorn of the Institute of Papyrology explains what this astonishing database can do and what it has to tell us about the lives of ordinary (and not-so-ordinary) people 2000 years ago.

Molecular midfielders

Growth factors regulate the way cells proliferate and mature. A major family of growth factors are the "transforming growth factors beta", TGF-ß for short. Their most remarkable feature is their versatility. They can encourage or block cell division, decide on cell death or survival — and switch from defence to attack at a moment's notice. In other words, they are ideal "midfielders". Klaus Unsicker of the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Centre describes these molecules and explains the part they play in developing and preserving the nervous system.

Heidelberg in four dimensions

Student Mei Li from Hong Kong only has one day to spend in Heidelberg and she'd like to see as much of the town as she can. At the station she hires a mobile electronic tourist guide and sets off on a voyage of discovery through the city. Her aim of making the most of the time at her disposal is a complete success because she gets to explore the things she is interested in without any unnecessary detours. The electronic device suggests an ideal route, tells her how to get to all the main sightseeing attractions, answers her questions about Heidelberg Castle and at lunch-time even books a table for her at a student inn near the University. This is an entirely believable scenario in the future of individual tourism, made possible by so-called Geographic Information Systems. Rainer Malaka of the European Media Laboratory and Peter Meusburger of the Institute of Geography give readers a graphic idea of what the new systems can do.

In the News and Views section, Professor Franz Eisele of the University's Institute of Physics takes a critical look at the university ranking charts published by the "Higher Education Development Centre". In the Young Scientists section, this year's Freudenberg Prize laureate Franc Meyer fills readers in on what chemists can learn from chemical processes in nature, while Barbara Mittler's article in the section "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation" describes propaganda posters used in China's Cultural Revolution and the light they cast on the run-up to and the repercussions of the colossal upheaval it caused.

"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost DM 10 plus postage (DM 5 for students). Like the special support subscription (DM 60 for four issues) they can be ordered from Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 105760, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available for inspection in the foyer of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).

For more information and complete articles from earlier issues (in German only) go to

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 29.11.2001


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