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Information for Researchers No. 90 | 25 October 2021
Priority Programme “Molecular Mechanisms of Functional Phase Separation” (SPP 2191)

In March 2018, the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) established the Priority Programme “Molecular Mechanisms of Functional Phase Separation” (SPP 2191). The programme is designed to run for six years. The present call invites proposals for the second three-year funding period.

Phase separation of proteins and RNA is emerging as a common biophysical principle underlying the formation of membrane-less organelles/condensates in the cell. The extent to which cells exploit phase separation in response to changes in the cellular environment and the cell cycle as a mechanism to create new and tailored functions has become apparent only in the past decade. Cells use phase separation to build and tune dynamic membrane-less organelles by exploiting properties that are often encoded in the intrinsically disordered regions of the proteins involved and RNA. Compartments formed by phase separation are reversible and highly dynamic, and continuously exchange molecules with their surroundings. These properties require us to rethink the organisation of cells and to modify our existing concepts of compartmentalisation and regulation of cellular functions. To investigate the newly emerging concepts, we need to develop new tools and approaches and combine cell biology and biophysics with biochemical reconstitution as well as theory and modelling. This also creates a great opportunity for the life sciences to harness the knowledge that already exists in the physical sciences, but mostly for non-biological systems.

The overarching goal of this Priority Programme is to unravel the molecular mechanisms and physiological functions that are driven by phase separation. Hence, desired projects include:

  • Studies that address how biomolecular condensates give rise to novel molecular function and/or how this can influence/determine cellular functions.
  • Studies that address how phase separation processes are regulated. Such studies can also be linked to how phase-separated compartments can become dysfunctional during ageing or in disease.
  • Technology development and/or theoretical studies to investigate dynamics, structure and emerging properties (such as material, biophysical properties or function) of biomolecular condensates. Those should not be solely descriptive but rather coupled to studies of molecular mechanism and biological function of the condensed state.

Besides individual proposals, the Priority Programme will also fund particular innovative cross-disciplinary tandem (or small group) research projects, involving e.g. a cell biologist or biochemist paired with a polymer physicist, material scientist, physical chemist, theoretician or modeller.

In order to keep a sharp focus of the Priority Programme, we do not aim to fund studies addressing mainly research on:

  • Amyloid-like aggregates that do not form by aberrant phase separation events. This includes studies on oligomeric states that precede amyloid or non-amyloid aggregates.
  • Studies in which the focus is merely on the disordered state of an intrinsically disordered protein (IDP), but no function directly linked to the condensed state is investigated as well as protein folding research, in which the mode of action is established by IDP transition to a folded state and no apparent link to phase separation is made.
  • Studies on biological processes that are merely spatially associated with membrane-less compartments (e.g. transcription in nucleoli) but are not targeted towards deciphering the relevance and molecular mechanisms underlying phase separation.

Proposals must be written in English and submitted to the DFG by 25 January 2022. Please note that proposals can only be submitted via elan, the DFG’s electronic proposal processing system. If you would like to submit a proposal for a new project within the existing Priority Programme, please go to Proposal Submission – New Project – Priority Programmes and select “SPP 2191” from the current list of calls. Previous applicants can submit a proposal for the renewal of an existing project under Proposal Submission – Proposal Overview/Renewal Proposal.

In preparing your proposal, please review the programme guidelines (form 50.05, section B) and follow the proposal preparation instructions (form 54.01). These forms can either be downloaded from our website or accessed through the elan portal.

Applicants must be registered in elan prior to submitting a proposal to the DFG. If you have not yet registered, please note that you must do so by 18 January 2022 to submit a proposal under this call; registration requests received after this time cannot be considered. You will normally receive confirmation of your registration by the next working day. Note that you will be asked to select the appropriate Priority Programme call during both the registration and the proposal process.

Further Information

More information on the Priority Programme is available under:

The elan system can be accessed at:

DFG forms 50.05 and 54.01 can be downloaded at:

For scientific enquiries, please contact the Priority Programme coordinator:

Questions on the DFG proposal process can be directed to:

Programme contact:

Administrative contact:

Note:

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