GBF Braunschweig (1986 – 2001)

Before I accepted the call from the University of Göttingen, I worked at the German Research Centre for Biotechnology (GBF) in Braunschweig, which is known today as Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI).

I had joined GBF in 1986, as molecular biologist to work on a project on protein design of human parathyroid hormone (PTH), an exciting project that was initiated and headed by Hubert Mayer. I succeeded in developing a bacterial expression system for this polypeptide hormone and designed and prepared a number of mutants. Since this hormone exerts anabolic as well as catabolic effects on the bone, the idea was to develop variants that only exhibit positive activities on bone growth. This part of my activities resulted in some patent applications. – In parallel, I had the opportunity to contribute to some projects on problems of transcription regulation, such as the regulation of the hPTH gene.

That was also the time when the idea of the TRANSFAC database came into existence, first as a collection of tables with relevant data on transcription factors and their binding sites. This turned soon into a real database, which provided the starting ground for a bioinformatics research project which I had to lead from 1993 on; the first funding for this project came from the a research grant with the acronym GENUS. Some years later, the project team was transformed into an own Research Group Bioinformatics, which I was heading until 2002.


Philipps University Marburg (1981 – 1986)

After I had finished by PhD and a short postdoc phase at GBF, Braunschweig, I accepted an offer from Klaus H. Seifart to join his research group at the University of Marburg, in the institue of Physiological Chemistry I of Peter Karlson. I started my work there in May 1981, and the following five years were completely dedicated to isolate and characterize transcription factors of RNA polymerase III.

Here, I'd like to insert a personal remark. Klaus was certainly one of those persons who had highest impact on my development, scientifically as well as personally. Without his constant guidance and encouragement, I would definitely had much less chances to cope with all the challenges of my further career. Very unfortunately, Klaus passed away much too early, in 2007.


GBF Braunschweig (1977 – 1981)

At the end of my studies of chemistry at the Technical University of Braunschweig, I got the opportunity to do my diploma thesis (1997) and my PhD thesis (1978-1980) at the Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung (German Research Centre for Biotechnology; GBF), in the department of Molecular Biology under the supervision of Karl G. Wagner and Jürgen Bode. The idea of that work was to synthesize a thiol-specific fluorescent probe, to label the histone H3 with that probe and, by monitoring the changes of the flurescence properties of the dye, study the protein-protein and protein-DNA interactions in the nucleosome. While the diploma thesis was mainly about the synthesis of a new fluorescent dye ("Synthesis, properties and application of the SH-specific fluorescent reagent N,N'-difluorescein thiocarbamyl-cystamine"), I was lucky enough to find a better one early in my PhD thesis, which turned out to be highly sensitive towards environmental changes (difluorescein disulfide; Wingender & Arellano, Anal. Biochem. 127, 351-360, 1982; PubMed 6926748). Subsequently, I applied a number of biophysical methods to study the conformational events in the histone octamer upon DNA-binding and histone modification.

After I finished my PhD in November 1981, I added a few months postdoc research period in the same institute, trying to isolate and characterize histone acetylases and deacetylases.