$$News and Reports$$

Jan. 23, 2023

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Prof. Natalie Elia of the Department of Life Sciences (above left), Prof. Anne Bernheim-Groswasser (above right) of the Department of Chemical Engineering, Prof. Petra Schwille, Director, Cellular and Molecular Biophysics Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Germany, and Prof. Dina Grohmann, Chair for Microbiology & Head of the Archaea Center, Regensburg University, Germany will research one of the most profound transitions in the evolutionary history of life: The origin of the eukaryotic cell 1.5-2 billion years ago. They will explore the question: how did nature evolve from simple cells, prokaryotes, to more complex cells, eukaryotes?

Recent discoveries of an intermediate cell species that belong to prokaryotes, but encode for proteins that mediate complex functions in eukaryotes have laid the groundwork for this long-term research exploration.

Prokaryotes called Asgard archaea are now considered to be the antecedents of eukaryotes, yet this newly discovered intermediate cell species, is very hard to isolate and there are practically no tools to study it. Profs. Elia and Bernheim-Groswasser will establish new experimental systems to study the key cellular machinery of Asgard archaea as the first step in the research.

The second step will be to assess a unique protein family called ESCRTs, which is known to manipulate membranes in eukaryotes and was identified in Asgard archaea to see if it holds the keys to producing the more advanced features of eukaryotic cells.

"It is very exciting to be embarking on this time travel journey to solve one of the profound mysteries of evolution," enthuses Prof. Elia.

The DIP grants provide 1.6 million euros over a 5-year period. Only two out of fourteen proposals are funded annually. The basic prerequisite for submitting a proposal is a collaboration between Israeli and German scientists.