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Information für die Wissenschaft Nr. 32 | 20. Mai 2015
Priority Programme “Next Generation Optogenetics: Tool Development and Application” (SPP 1926)

The Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established a Priority Programme entitled “Next Genereation Optogenetics: Tool Development and Application” (SPP 1926). The programme will start in 2016 and is designed to run for six years. Applications are now invited for the first three-year period.

Optogenetics methods and tools are revolutionising research in neuroscience and cell biology, as they elegantly enable light-controlled manipulation of cellular functions. Although the main scope of optogenetics has been in basic science, applications in biomedicine are emerging, e.g., drug screening and new prospects for therapy. To explore new aspects of cell and neurobiology, optogenetic methods need to be taken to the next level. The implementation of novel light control mechanisms and the engineering of proteins with light-sensitive moieties beyond natural proteins will allow targeting additional cellular activities. Such tool development has to be both mechanism- and application-driven, and thus requires close interactions between disciplines such as biophysics, cell biology, neuroscience, and engineering. Furthermore, the new optogenetic tools have to be implemented in animal models. The Priority Programme will thus foster interactions among photobiologists, chemists, cell biologists and biomedical scientists, who will combine their expertise to mechanistically understand the proteins, design highly specific chemical photoswitches, implement them in cells and animals and develop optogenetic therapies. It is therefore required, that projects represent researchers from more than one discipline, forming tandems e.g. between photobiologists and biophysicists, or between chemists and tool implementers, etc.

In the first funding period, the Priority Programme will include projects covering the following topics:

  • Spectroscopy, theory and modelling to characterise the novel optogenetic tools and to enable modification of their properties, hand in hand with tool implementation.
  • Optogenetic tools with high sensitivity via amplification mechanisms, or by combined systems, i.e. light-switchable proteins that trigger high-conductance ion channels.
  • Generation of light-gated channels selective for K+ or Ca2+; novel optogenetic tools enabling efficient light-induced gene expression, protein-protein interactions, cell ablation, protein inactivation or degradation.
  • Targeting of optogenetic tools to intracellular compartments, and novel targeting techniques for expressing optogenetic tools in small subsets of neurons in vertebrates.
  • Genetically addressable and reversible chemical photoswitches and photopharmacological agents, specific for distinct cellular targets or proteins.
  • Efficient novel genetically encoded optical sensors for membrane voltage, 2nd messengers (not Ca2+) or metabolites, combined with optogenetic actuators.
  • Novel applications of optogenetic tools with the distinct aim of biomedical intervention or therapy.
  • Engineering of novel concepts in optoelectronics and light delivery, combined with optogenetics, addressing distinct biological questions, or biomedical application.
  • Tailoring existing optogenetic tools or applications for addressing fundamental biological questions in areas previously not amenable to optical approaches (immunology, cancer research, reproductive medicine, antibiotics development, etc.).

The Priority Programme will not include projects that focus on:

  • Mere application of existing and established optogenetic tools without novelty or methods development.
  • Mutagenesis for color tuning or affecting photocycle kinetics of well-established opsins such as channelrhodopsin.
  • Projects with sole focus on improvement of established light delivery methods.
  • Mere, irreversible photo-uncaging of ligands or molecules that are not specifically tailored to one distinct type of protein or receptor.

Proposals must be submitted in English no later than 10 November 2015 via the DFG’s electronic submission system “elan” selecting “SPP 1926”. Please follow the guidelines for project submission according to forms 50.05en and 54.01en. Please notice the rules for publication lists (form 1.91en). If you are using the elan system for the first time, please note that you need to register yourself and your institutional address before being able to submit a proposal. Also, if you are planning to move to a different institution (e.g. with a Temporary Position for Principal Investigators) you need to register the new institutional address beforehand. Please make sure that all applicants of your project (in case there is more than one) start their registration at the latest two weeks before the submission deadline. The registration requests are handled manually by DFG staff.

Further information

The DFG’s electronic portal “elan” can be found at:

Proposal guidelines and preparation instructions are outlined in DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01, which can be found on the DFG’s website at:

For scientific enquiries concerning the scope of the programme, please contact the Priority Programme’s coordinator:

  • Prof. Dr. Alexander Gottschalk,
    Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences,
    Goethe University,
    Max-von-Laue-Straße 15,
    60438 Frankfurt,
    phone: +49 69 798-42518,
    a.gottschalk@em.uni-frankfurt.de

For grant-related queries please contact the DFG:

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