Foundation stone layed: Institute of Chemical Epigenetics will be built

Jun 14, 2018

The LMU is adding a new central element to its high-tech campus at Großhadern. By 2020, a new building is to be built where researchers will investigate important mechanisms of genetic control.


Architecturally, the new building will be very similar to its neighbor, but the formal language sets its own course - just as the research in the building will have its very own content-related focus. The Institute of Chemical Epigenetics (ICE-M) is now being built on the northwest corner of the Großhadern campus. The new building will mainly be used by research groups that use chemical methods to investigate important questions of genetic control. The focus will be set on development and production of new substances with great application potential.

The analysis of the so-called epigenetic code and its chemical language, is a research field with great innovation potential for chemistry and the life sciences bordering on chemistry, says Thomas Carell, Professor of Organic Chemistry and Commissioner for New Buildings. The Martinsried-Großhadern site is considered one of the world's top addresses for natural sciences - an almost unique concentration of renowned scientific institutions. This environment offers an outstanding infrastructure and thus ideal conditions for top-class interdisciplinary research.

The construction of the new Institute of Chemical Epigenetics without initial equipment will cost around 34 million euros. The Free State of Bavaria is taking over 20 million euros of the total project costs amounting to 39.6 million euros, the federal government is contributing 19.4 million euros. By 2020, the building should be ready for occupancy. On Monday, 11th of June 2018, the foundation stone was layed in the presence of the Bavarian Minister of State for Science and Art, Professor Marion Kiechle.

Laying of the foundation stone of the ICE-M: Elena Schirnding de Almeida from Staatliches Bauamt München 2, the Bavarian Minister of Science, Professor Marion Kiechle, Professor Martin Wirsing, Vice President for Studies at LMU, Architect Aslan Tschaidse of Fritsch & Tschaidse, and Professor Thomas Carell, Construction Manager for the ICE M (from left)

Research at the ICE-M
Why are nerve cells different from skin or muscle cells when all the cells of a human being are equipped with the identical complete DNA sequence? How are the different forms and functions created? Why do identical twins often not look as similar as one would expect given the same genome? And why are they often anything but a perfect double? Not all genes are active in each cell; and in each cell there is a kind of circuit diagram, a higher program, which determines which of these many genetic building instructions the cell machinery can use. This is an extremely dynamic system, not a rigid blueprint, as it is codified in the actual gene code. The organism can react even in the short term. It is "the language in which the genetic material communicates with the environment," as researchers say. So if one wants to know how the human system works, how an organism develops and works, how it reacts biologically to the environment and what makes it vulnerable and sick, one has to learn to read this circuit diagram, the so-called epigenetic code.

In the new ICE-M, LMU researchers will mainly investigate the chemical processes associated with the epigenetic code. They will develop new detection reagents and design molecules to modify the epigenetic code from the outside. So far it is clear: the code consists of a pattern of chemical labels, for example, so-called methyl, hydroxymethyl or formyl groups, which are additionally attached to the genetic material. Like small flags, they mark individual building blocks of the DNA strand. They signal to the cell machinery which genes are shut down - usually only temporarily. Taken together, the mini-labels form a complex pattern, which lays itself as a kind of genetic additional code on the actual genetic information on the endless genetic text with its alphabet of the four letters A, C, G and T. Frequently, the building blocks of the DNA and the very similar RNA are chemically altered in a massive way for this additional code. While only four base variants have been found in DNA so far, the researchers put the number of modified bases in the RNA at more than 150. According to experts, there may also be further unknown modifications to date. The researchers at the ICE-M have set themselves the goal of decoding these variants, the chemical language of the changes and their functions. The substances that they will develop have enormous potential for application. The research work in the new building therefore has a bridging function between basic research and direct application in medicine.

The new four-floors building will have a total usable ground area of over 3580 square meters. It is being built on the northwestern end of the LMU Campus Großhadern - next to its structural "brother", the BioSysM, which was opened in 2016, on the corner of Würmtal and Butenandt street. The ICE-M building will also be characterized by rounded corners. The facade is structured by a horizontally circulating window ledge.

The preliminary design was drafted by the Staatliches Bauamt München 2 and was further developed by the architects Fritsch and Tschaidse, Munich.